PARIS, December 11, 2013 (AFP) – Following is a factfile on dementia, dominating the meeting of health ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) nations in London on Wednesday:
WHAT IS IT?
Dementia is the term for memory loss and a decline in mental abilities that progressively disrupt everyday life. The cause is damage to brain cells, preventing them from communicating with each other.[pq]Around 44 million people around the world have dementia — Alzheimer’s Disease International.[/pq]
Alzheimer’s, an age-related disease characterised by a buildup of toxic proteins in the brain, accounts for between 60 and 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia, or cognitive loss that occurs after a stroke, is the second biggest cause.
According to the charity Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), around 44 million people around the world have dementia.
This is a rise of 22 percent over the past three years, reflecting a bulge in the world’s population and higher life expectancy over the past decades. The number is likely to treble to 135 million by 2050.
A frontline country is China, where according to a study published in June, the number of people with dementia was around 9.19 million in 2010, compared with 3.68 million 20 years earlier.
IS THERE A CURE?
There is no cure or vaccine for dementia and there are no treatments that slow or stop its progression, although there are drugs that may improve symptoms temporarily.
Scientists are working hard on understanding fundamental causes of dementia, including genetic risks, and at blocking the molecular pathways by which the disease develops.
There are more than 100 clinical trials and studies underway. A sound lifestyle — regular physical exercise, a healthy diet, no smoking and staying mentally active — may help lower the risk.
WHAT ARE THE COSTS?
Dementia carries very high costs, both directly — in the labour-intensive hospital care for people with the disease — and indirectly, for people who give up time to care for loved-ones. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), dementia cost $604 billion, or 440 billion euros, in 2010.
A study by the not-for-profit RAND Corporation this year found dementia costs the United States more than cancer or heart disease, with an annual bill ranging from $157 billion to $215 billion. It based these figures on a cost per person of $41,000 to $56,000 per year.
SOURCES: Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI); Alzheimer’s Association (United States); World Health Organisation (WHO); The Lancet; New England Journal of Medicine