Cases of dementia may double by 2030 and triple by 2050, says a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO).
The disease, which currently affects over 35 million people, has greater costs than are typically realized. Worldwide care for dementia patients costs about $604 billion, which includes both medical care and income loss for patients and caretakers.
Dementia is distinct from the general absentmindedness that can sometimes accompany old age. It is a brain illness most frequently cause by Alzheimer's, affecting not only memory but also behavior and functionality.
Because dementia tends to affect older people, rich countries with higher life expectancies have seen the most cases of the affliction in recent decades. But now, poor- and middle-income countries are home to more than half of all dementia sufferers, and they can expect to see more and more diagnoses as their populations grow and age.
The infrastructure to deal with this increase in dementia is not yet in place. According to the WHO, only eight countries have implemented national programs to deal with the syndrome. And even in those countries, a lack of early diagnosis means that chances to address dementia before it becomes severe are often missed.
The WHO report aims to increase awareness about dementia. The current lack of understanding fuels stigma, according to a press release, which in turn contributes to the social isolation of both the person with dementia and their caregivers, and can lead to delays in seeking diagnosis, health assistance and social support.