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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Dementia Set to Soar Globally

1 New Case Every 7 Seconds, Experts Estimate
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 15, 2005 -- Dementia is predicted to skyrocket worldwide in the coming decades, according to a study in The Lancet.

Consider these numbers from the report:

  • Today, more than 24 million people have dementia.
  • Every year, there are 4.6 million new cases of dementia (1 every 7 seconds).
  • Every 20 years, the number of cases will double.
  • By 2040, the world will have more than 81 million people with dementia.

Those estimates come from an international group of dementia experts including Cleusa Ferri, PhD, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London.

Dementia Facts

Dementia is the loss of mental functions -- such as thinking, memory, and reasoning -- that is severe enough to interfere with a person's daily life.

Dementia is not temporary confusion or normal forgetfulness.

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease. Dementia patients are usually elderly and the disease tends to worsen over time, but it's not a normal part of the aging process.

Dementia on a Global Scale

The experts who worked on the new study were assembled by Alzheimer's Disease International, an umbrella group for Alzheimer's disease associations in various countries.

The experts' task: Comb through the world's statistics on dementia (not just Alzheimer's disease) and come up with global predictions about where dementia is headed.

Some regions had better dementia data than others. The researchers also used U.N. estimates of population growth.

Developing Countries Hardest Hit

Most people with dementia live in what the researchers call "developing countries." Those countries will also have the sharpest rise in dementia cases in the future, the experts predict.

They predict a 100% increase in developed countries' dementia cases between 2001 and 2040. In comparison, they predict a 300% increase in dementia cases in developing countries.

Here is the researchers' list of the highest number of dementia cases in 2001:

  • China: 5 million
  • European Union: 5 million
  • U.S.: 2.9 million
  • India: 1.5 million
  • Japan: 1.1 million
  • Russia: 1.1 million
  • Indonesia: 1 million

Of course, predictions aren't always right. The experts note that dementia could grow faster than they expect.

On the bright side, they add that dementia could also drop if new treatments or methods of prevention are found.

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