Neurological conditions, including dementia, world’s number one cause of ill health and disability, study suggests

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By Alzheimer's Research UK | Friday 15 March 2024

A new study shows that neurological conditions are now the leading cause of ill health in the world, affecting 3.4 billion people in 2021.

The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and published in the journal The Lancet Neurology.

The biggest contributors to neurological health loss globally were stroke, neonatal encephalopathy (brain injury), migraine, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, and diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage).

“Every country now has estimates of their neurological burden based on the best available evidence,” said lead author Dr Jaimie Steinmetz from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, who called for effective, culturally acceptable, and affordable prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, and long-term care strategies to combat case numbers that had risen 59% globally since 1990.

“These figures are really concerning and underline the need for urgent action. Without it, dementia is going to continue to devastate millions of lives across the world,” said Dr Leah Mursaleen, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, “Here in the UK, that means placing an even greater strain on the NHS.”

Globally, the number of people living with, or dying from, neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, has risen substantially over the past 30 years. This is due in part to societies that are getting older.

The analysis suggests that worldwide, the overall amount of disability, illness, and premature death (measured by disability-adjusted life years [DALYs]) – caused by neurological conditions increased by 18% over the past 31 years. This has risen from around 375 million years of healthy life lost in 1990 to 443 million years in 2021.

Last year, Alzheimer’s Research UK conducted an analysis and found that if nothing changes, one in two people in the UK will be affected by dementia, either by developing the condition directly, caring for a loved one, or both.

While these results are stark, there is a lot to be optimistic about, said Dr Mursaleen. “We are at a tipping point for dementia research, with the first generation of treatments that can slow down the disease finally on the horizon, and new diagnostics like blood tests also soon to arrive.”

“Whilst research is continuously moving forward, we need governments and health systems to follow if we have any chance of stopping these devastating diseases.”

Ahead of the next general election, Alzheimer’s Research UK is calling for ambitious commitments to tackle the increasing pressure that dementia places on society, the NHS, and the economy, and pave the way to a society in which people are free from the fear and heartbreak of this devastating condition.

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3 Comments

  1. Jan on 17th April 2024 at 8:12 am

    This article really gave me hope. Thankyou!!

  2. Jacquelyn on 17th April 2024 at 9:00 am

    It seems that the only studies and trials of drugs to to fight Dementia here in the UK are generated in the States…. Where is our own research and why are our own drug companies not active in this fight which is creating more misery and hardship every year???

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Alzheimer's Research UK