MONDAY, Sept. 21, 2009 (HealthDay News) -- The prevalence of Alzheimer's disease is accelerating at a rapid pace, and by next year 35.6 million people around the world will suffer from dementia -- a 10 percent increase since 2005, a new report predicts.
Incidence of dementia will almost double every 20 years, reaching 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050, according to the 2009 World Alzheimer Report from Alzheimer's Disease International.
"We are confronting an emergency -- we need to do something about this," said Alzheimer's Disease International Chair Dr. Daisy Acosta. Governments around the world must take notice and address the social, medical and economic issues related to dementia, she said.
"Life expectancy is increasing everywhere in the world, and that's why the number of people with dementia are increasing," she said.
According to the report, which analyzed data from 147 studies in 21 areas around the world, prevalence has increased fastest in low- and middle- income countries. Figures for Western Europe, South Asia and Latin America are higher than the 2005 estimates, while numbers have risen only slightly in North America.
In 2010, more than half (57.7 percent) of dementia cases will occur in low- and middle-income countries, and the proportion will jump to 70.5 percent by 2050, the report said.
The report highlights the challenges faced by governments and health-care systems worldwide to meet the needs of people living with Alzheimer's and dementia, and their families and caregivers.
The global cost is estimated at $315 billion annually. But the toll dementia takes on patients, caregivers and families is also staggering, Acosta said. "Suffering is something you cannot calculate in money," she said.
As demented individuals lose their ability to function and communicate with loved ones, caregivers, family and friends pay a heavy emotional price. Up to 75 percent of caregivers have significant psychological illness resulting from caregiving, and 15 percent to 32 percent suffer major depression, the report noted.
Low-income countries, where dementia is considered a normal part of aging, need to promote greater awareness of the disease, Acosta said. Over the next 20 years, some places like North Africa and the Middle East will see dementia cases increase 125 percent, the researchers predicted.
Wealthy countries, including the United States, need plans "to address the issues of the dementia patient," she said.
Because the United States has no national plan for Alzheimer's disease, research and treatment gains have lagged, said Harry Johns, chief executive officer of the Alzheimer's Association. "We do not have a national plan like France does, like the United Kingdom does, like Australia does."
"As a result, the investment in Alzheimer's research is far lower than for other chronic diseases," Johns said. "We have seen investments in cancer make a big difference, in heart disease make a big difference, in HIV/AIDS make a big difference, but the investment in Alzheimer's research is dramatically lower than those other conditions."
Dementia is characterized by a progressive deterioration in intellectual abilities, including memory, learning, orientation, language, comprehension and judgment. Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, is fatal. The condition mainly affects people older than 65.
"This new report updates the sad fact that economic globalization and development is coupled to a globalizing dementia epidemic now projected to grow to an alarming 115 million victims worldwide," said Greg M. Cole, associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at the David Geffen School of Medicine of the University of California Los Angeles.
The study emphasizes the personal tragedy of dementia and the growing economic and social burdens that developing countries face because of the rising costs of aging, Cole said.
"This study shows that aging populations, which were once only the problem of the developed countries like the United States, Japan and Europe, are also rapidly rising in Asia and Latin America," Cole said. "It calls for efforts to find new treatments to care for the tens of millions of new victims in the developing countries and to help their overburdened caregivers."
A worldwide effort is needed to cope with the increase in dementia, Cole said.
"What the world needs is prevention, but new drugs will necessarily be focused on treatment of diagnosed disease," Cole said. "It takes many years to develop and test prevention methods so we have to act now. We can only hope that there are governments that are not too short-sighted or cognitively-impaired to generate the political will to make primary prevention happen."
For more information on Alzheimer's disease, visit the Alzheimer's Association.