The prevalence of dementia around the world is expected to rise greatly by 2050, with the biggest increases to be seen in the Middle East and Africa. Key Takeaways Cases of dementia around the world are expected to almost triple by 2050. According to a new analysis, the key factors are population growth and population aging.Some areas of the world—like North Africa, the Middle East, and
According to new estimates, the worldwide number of people with dementia will nearly triple by 2050. Dementia’s prevalence is expected to rise from just under 60 million cases in 2019 to nearly 153 million cases globally in 2050.
Northern Africa, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa are expected to see the largest increases—up by more than 300%.
The analysis was conducted by international researchers and published in Lancet Public Health.
Emma Nichols, MPH, a lead author of the study and a researcher at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, told Verywell that the research that “looked at forecasting the prevalence of dementia to 2050 is part of the Global Burden of Disease study, which is a larger effort to comprehensively quantify the burden of different diseases across the world and over time.”
Nichols said that estimating the burden of a disease or condition, such as dementia, can emphasize its importance. It can also be a call to action for governments to create or scale up intervention programs and services for the future as well as invest in more research and basic science.
According to the report, the smallest increase in dementia prevalence may occur in Japan (27%) The largest increase is expected in Qatar (1,926%).
The United States is predicted to have an increase of 100%—meaning that cases of dementia in Americans could double by 2050.
The researchers highlighted a few of the most significant risk factors that will contribute to the growing number of people around the world living with dementia.
The expected rise in the global population and the increase in longevity seen around the world are the two of the biggest factors contributing to more cases of dementia in the years to come. Nichols said that “age is the largest risk factor for dementia, by far.”
There’s going to be a rather dramatic increase in dementia around the world because there are so many more people who are going to be living into the higher age ranges.
Gayatri Devi, MD, clinical professor of neurology and psychology at the Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra University, an attending physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, and a fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, told Verywell that “there’s going to be a rather dramatic increase in dementia around the world because there are so many more people who are going to be living into the higher age ranges.”
Risk factors for dementia, including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood glucose (sugar) levels, and smoking, are also expected to increase in the coming decades.
“The Western diet is making huge inroads in poor countries and underdeveloped nations,” said Devi. “That diet is prone to many risk factors that are the underpinnings for dementia.” Living a mostly sedentary lifestyle also contributes to obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.
Devi pointed out that while developed countries might be working on moderating the risk from these factors, many developing countries have not been able to yet.
A lower level of education is another risk factor for dementia. The analysis projected that improved access to education could lead to about 6 million fewer cases of dementia—but that still wouldn’t offset the projected 7 million added cases related to obesity, high blood sugar, and smoking.
According to Nichols, education is thought to lower the risk of dementia through what is called the cognitive reserve hypothesis.
Devi added that education “tends to provide some level of resilience in the face of pathology”—in other words, the brain of someone who is educated or who learns on their own has a reserve and increased flexibility that bolsters it.
The rise in dementia cases globally could potentially be averted if there is a focus on prevention. According to Nichols, the report’s estimates “can be used to sort of guide policy and decision-makers in their understanding of what is the magnitude of these supports and services that will be needed in the future and to adequately prepare so we don’t have to be surprised.”
For now, more research on dementia—specifically on treatment and prevention—is needed. Nichols said that “we need to be investing in research to better understand the disease mechanisms and to develop these therapeutics, but we also cannot, at the same time, count on the success of those efforts.”
The number of people around the world living with dementia is expected to increase greatly by 2050. There are several factors at play, such as people living longer and having lifestyle habits that increase their risk for dementia.
However, if there is more public health focus and research on reducing risk factors, researchers feel that the increase in dementia prevalence could be avoided.