We often think of dementia as a private, intimate hell. A mother no longer recognizes her daughter’s voice. A father rages incoherently at a family dinner.
But it’s worth remembering the global scope of dementia; it’s a looming, worldwide public health disaster, a ‘tidal wave,” as the head of the World Health Organization recently put it, that’s growing worse each year.
This week, the World Health Organization held the first-ever ministerial conference calling for global action against dementia, saying, essentially, enough already, this is something we really need to deal with now.
The WHO’s Director General, Dr. Margaret Chan, offered some sobering perspective in her opening remarks and noted that there are three specific reasons to act now: “Dementia has a large human cost. Dementia has a large financial cost. Both of these costs are increasing.”
According to remarks distributed by the WHO, Chan spoke of dementia, including Alzheimer’s, in dire terms:
“The world has plans for dealing with a nuclear accident, cleaning up chemical spills, managing natural disasters, responding to an influenza pandemic, and combatting antimicrobial resistance. But we do not have a comprehensive and affordable plan for coping with the tidal wave of dementia that is coming our way.”
And the numbers are staggering:
–Dementia currently affects more than 47 million people worldwide, with more than 75 million people estimated to be living with dementia by 2030. The number is expected to triple by 2050.
–Dementia leads to increased long-term care costs for governments, communities, families and individuals, and to productivity loss for economies. The global cost of dementia care in 2010 was estimated to be U.S. $604 billion – 1.0% of global gross domestic product. By 2030, the cost of caring for people with dementia worldwide could be an estimated US $1.2 trillion or more, which could undermine social and economic development throughout the world.
–Nearly 60% of people with dementia live in low- and middle-income countries, and this proportion is expected to increase rapidly during the next decade, which may contribute to increasing inequalities between countries and populations.