Global dementia cases are set to triple, but what does this mean, what are we doing and how can you help?

This week dementia researchers from around the world gathered together, either physically or virtually, for the world’s largest dementia research meeting, the 2021 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.

The conference covers all aspects of dementia research from the latest discoveries about how pollution can affect brain health to potential neurological effects of COVID-19.

You may have seen media coverage of research predicting a dramatic and worrying rise of global dementia cases over the next 30 years.

With the news that global dementia cases are set to triple by 2050 to no fewer than 152 million, you may be forgiven for thinking that this problem is too big to solve. However, the predicted increase in dementia cases isn’t a forgone conclusion. Dementia is a condition caused by diseases. And while age is the largest risk factor for dementia and this predicted global increase in dementia cases is driven by an ageing society, there are things we can do about it.

You can Think Brain Health

Dementia is caused by an intertwining mix of age and genetics, factors which we can’t control, but also lifestyle factors, many of which are within our power to change. Research has time and again shown that there are things we can do to reduce the number of people developing dementia.

Robust evidence indicates that what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain. Not smoking, only drinking within the recommended limits, staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check can all help to keep our brains healthy as we age. The full list of risk factors identified is below:

  • Early life education
  • Hearing loss
  • Smoking
  • Depression
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Social isolation
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol consumption – greater than 21 units a week
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Exposure to air pollution

Scientists have also calculated that if we were able to address all 12 of these modifiable factors then the number of new dementia cases would fall by 40%.

To learn more about your incredible brain and the steps you can take to protect, you can take our quiz.

You can call on policy makers

To enable everyone to take positive steps to look after their brain throughout life, we have also recommended to policymakers that there should be the development of a national brain health strategy.

We know that if we can understand what increases the risk of developing dementia, health services and individuals can be better informed about how to reduce that risk.

What’s more, some risk factors for dementia, such as air pollution, are hard to avoid as individuals, but can be addressed by wider societal action and legislative change.

We’d encourage you to write to your MP to support our Think Brain Health campaign today.

We are working towards new treatments

While there are steps that people and policymakers can take to reduce the impact of the modifiable risk factors identified, it will never be possible to eliminate all of these.

There’s a massive unmet clinical need for dementia treatments. We have recently seen the first Alzheimer’s drug in over 20 years be approved for use in the US.  And while we’re still some way from learning whether the drug – aducanumab (also known as Aduhelm) – will reach patients in the UK, this is an encouraging sign of research progress changing the way the disease is treated.

As the UK’s leading dementia research charity, we are investing heavily in drug discovery programmes here in the UK. This funding is paying off. In 2020 the teams at our pioneering Drug Discovery Institutes explored over 20 potential new drugs, paving the way to more and better treatments.

Stay up to date with our research progress

This increase in global cases isn’t inevitable. New preventions and treatments can bring about a brighter future. But only if we prioritise research.

“With the number of new dementia cases set to almost triple we need to see concerted global action now, to transform the prospects for the next generation.”

“We are currently at a tipping point for dementia research and substantial and stable funding will make all the difference in bringing about new life-changing treatments for the people who desperately need them.”

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK

 Over the past century, mankind has achieved incredible feats of science and medicine. We have mapped all the genes in the human body, developed drugs to successfully control HIV, and doubled cancer survival rates.

Similar breakthroughs are possible for dementia. Researchers have made incredible progress and are working to build on these advances to transform the way people with dementia are treated in the future.

Watch as Dame Julie Walters highlights the progress research is making towards a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.

At Alzheimer’s Research UK we remain committed to funding scientists to make breakthroughs possible

If you want to know more about how researchers in the UK and around the world are changing the future for people living with dementia you can read more about progress and register to our monthly e-newsletter here.

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Ed Pinches

Team: Science news

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