The number of people with dementia in Europe is set to almost double by 2050, research suggests.
Dementia is an “umbrella term” for disorders that affect brain functioning, leading to memory loss, impaired thinking and mood swings.
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To better understand cases of the condition, scientists from the non-profit organisation Alzheimer’s Europe looked at 16 studies analysing its prevalence.
An estimated 7.8 million people live with the disorder in the EU, rising to 9.7 million in “European countries represented by Alzheimer’s Europe members”.
By 2050, this is expected to almost double to 14.2 million in the EU and 18.8 million in wider Europe.
“The number of people living with the condition is set to increase substantially in the years ahead, which will only place greater pressure on care and support services unless better ways of treating and preventing dementia are identified”, said Jean Georges, executive director of Alzheimer’s Europe.
“If people with dementia, their families and carers are to receive the high-quality and person-centred care they need, governments must ensure their health and care systems are ready to meet this demand and greater investments in research into the treatment and prevention of dementia are needed”.
It is not all bad news, however.
Alzheimer’s Europe latest research suggests dementia affects fewer people than it predicted just over a decade ago.
For example, among men in the 80-to-84 age group, the latest findings imply 10.67% may have dementia. This is compared to up to 14.5% in Alzheimer’s Europe’s 2008 estimations.
In women of the same age, Alzheimer’s Europe estimates 13.05% have dementia, considerably fewer than the projected 16.4% in 2008.
Nevertheless, cases are expected to rise.
“The total number of people developing dementia is still set to soar”, said Sally Copley, director of policy and campaigns, at Alzheimer’s Society.
“Our chronically underfunded social care system cannot cope and requires drastic reform.
“We believe only free universal care, funded like schools and the NHS, will provide people with dementia the dignity, security and fundamental care they deserve now and in the future.”
Understanding of dementia’s cause is muddled. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, making up 62% of cases in the UK.
Alzheimer’s is thought to come about when proteins abnormally accumulate in and around the brain cells, forming plaques and tangles.
Over time, different areas of the brain shrink, with the regions responsible for memories usually going first.
Age is the “single most significant factor” for Alzheimer’s, with the risk doubling every five years past 65.
The average EU citizen lived to 81 in 2017.
This is compared to 74 in 1990, 72 in 1980, 70 in 1970 and 69 in 1960.
Dementia is “incurable”, with treatments focusing on slowing disease progression and maintaining mental function.