Dementia cases on the rise and not only in the old

Dementia cases on the rise and not only in the old
Credit: Belga

A public health priority for the World Health Organization, dementia affects 50 million people worldwide and every year there are nearly 10 million new cases.

By 2030, WHO estimates that the total number of people with dementia is expected to reach 82 million; 152 million, even, by 2050. This increase is largely due to the growth in the number of cases in low- and middle-income countries.

In general, dementia is characterised as a syndrome where cognitive function (the ability to perform thought operations) is impaired. This can affect all aspects of daily life, such as memory, reasoning, orientation and language. This is sometimes accompanied by disorders of emotional control or social behaviour.

This is not just an inevitable consequence of aging, even though age is the biggest known risk factor. The disease does not only affect the elderly. More and more people develop so-called "early" dementia, that is, the first symptoms before the age of 65. Figures show that 9% of all cases are now in this range.

Every four seconds, a person in the world is diagnosed with dementia. In Belgium, the number of people with dementia has exceeded 200,000 cases since 2020. But beyond the patients, the disease impacts many more people: family and loved ones are called upon to take care of the sick, who live in 70% of cases at home.

Older women currently have a 50% greater risk than men of developing dementia, and in particular Alzheimer's disease. This inequality is explained by certain increased risk factors in women after menopause, such as cardiovascular disease (including stroke). The recognition of the symptoms of cardiovascular events and their management are also less good in women.

Other factors are advanced, such as longer longevity in women, for a disease whose risk increases with age. But certain genetic factors are also mentioned.

In addition, researchers from Inserm and the University of Paris, in collaboration with University College London, have shown in a publication in The Lancet Public Health that thanks to greater access to higher education, certain cognitive abilities have improved in women over the last generations.

Since the current generation of very old people was born in the 1920s and 1940s, at a time when few women had access to higher education, the authors believe that catching up with these inequalities may have an impact on gendered inequalities in the face of dementia risk.

For relatives, for health professionals, for all those who want to discuss the subject, the Alzheimer League has been organising Alzheimer Cafés since 2003. There are now 70 in Brussels and Wallonia.

In total, 48 Belgian localities have joined the "Dementia Friendly City" network, those municipalities that have signed a Charter guaranteeing a quality of life for patients.

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