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Global Goals

Improve support for rising numbers living with dementia



Dementia is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide. / Photograph courtesy of WHO

More than 55 million people globally are living with dementia, and that number continues to grow, according to a recent UN health agency report, which notes that only one-quarter of the world’s countries have national policies, strategies or support plans in place.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global status report on the public health response to dementia reveals the European Region hosts half of all countries offering effective support.

Yet even in Europe, many plans are expiring, or have already expired, indicating a need for renewed government commitments.

“Dementia robs millions of people of their memories, independence and dignity, but it also robs the rest of us of the people we know and love,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Targets alone ‘not enough’
Dementia is caused by a variety of diseases and injuries that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease or stroke. It affects memory and other cognitive functions, as well as the ability to perform everyday tasks.

“The world is failing people with dementia, and that hurts all of us,” Tedros said. “Four years ago, governments agreed a clear set of targets to improve dementia care. But targets alone are not enough.”

The disability associated with dementia is a key driver of costs related to the condition. In 2019, the global price tag was estimated at $1.3 trillion — a number that is projected to rise to $1.7 trillion by 2030, or $2.8 trillion if care costs are included.

Surging cases
At the same time, the report explains that the number of people living with dementia is growing.

WHO estimates that 8.1 percent of women and 5.4 percent of men over 65 currently live with the condition — and is estimated to rise to 78 million by 2030, and to 139 million by 2050.

“We need concerted action to ensure that all people with dementia are able to live with the support and dignity they deserve,” stressed the WHO chief.

Support in terms of caring for people with dementia and those who provide that care must be strengthened at national levels in both formal and informal settings, the report said.

This includes community-based services, as well as specialists, long-term and palliative care.

While 89 percent of countries reporting to WHO’s Global Dementia Observatory say they provide some community-based services for dementia, high-income nations provide medication, hygiene products, assistive technologies and household adjustments with a greater level of reimbursement.

Informal care
The type and level of services provided by the health and social care sectors also determine the level of informal support that is primarily provided by family members, the report noted.

While social care costs make up over a third, informal care accounts for about half the global cost of dementia.