Worldwide dementia patients set to triple by 2050, study says

The researchers found improved access to education could cut the increase in dementia patients by 6.2 million by 2050. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Dementia will ravage the minds of 153 million people globally in 2050, about three times more than in 2019, according to a study that shows the rising stakes for public-health policy along with successful therapies from drugmakers.

The tripling of cases of cognitive illnesses that include memory-robbing Alzheimer's disease is tied to national trends in risk factors including obesity, diabetes, low education and smoking, according to the Global Burden of Disease study.

Published on Thursday (Jan 6) in the Lancet Public Health journal, the analysis looked at 195 of the world's countries and territories.

Government and public-health officials are looking to design targeted policy to tackle the risk of debilitating dementia, the seventh leading cause of death worldwide.

Drugmakers are also trying to design therapies to take on the Alzheimer's threat, such as Biogen's Aduhelm, which has seen just minimal uptake since its approval in June.

"Even modest advances in preventing dementia or delaying its progression would pay remarkable dividends," said lead study author Emma Nichols from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle.

"To have the greatest impact, we need to reduce exposure to the leading risk factors in each country."

Sought by numerous companies, Alzheimer's drugs have so far shown limited effectiveness in countering dementia.

Aduhelm was approved on the basis of its ability to remove a disease-linked protein from the brain; its impact on thinking still is not clear.

Meanwhile, other companies, including Eli Lilly & Co and Roche Holding, are working on similar therapies. Biogen also has another protein-clearing drug in development.

The researchers found improved access to education could cut the increase in dementia patients by 6.2 million by 2050.

However, that would be more than offset by an estimated 7 million extra cases tied to trends in obesity, high blood sugar and smoking.

North Africa, the Middle East and eastern sub-Saharan Africa are forecast to see the biggest surge in dementia, an estimated fourfold increase.

In contrast, the study saw lower increases in wealthier countries in the Asia-Pacific region and western Europe.

Women living with dementia will continue to outnumber their male counterparts in 2050, the study found, due to a combination of genetic risk factors and longer life expectancy, as the risk of dementia rises with age.

Still, the trajectory forecast by the study could change if appropriate action is taken, according to an accompanying commentary in the same journal.

The study gives "apocalyptic projections that do not factor in advisable changes in lifestyle over the lifetime", Bordeaux University Hospital doctors Michael Schwarzinger and Carole Dufouil, who were not involved in the analysis, said in the commentary.

"There is a considerable and urgent need to reinforce a public health approach towards dementia to better inform the people and decision makers about the appropriate means to delay or avoid these dire projections."

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