One week before the G8 dementia summit in London, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) announced that the number of people with Alzheimer’s worldwide will triple from 44 million today to 135 million by 2050. Even accounting for growth that’s expected to drive the global population to 9.6 billion people by that year, ADI’s projection suggests that the percentage of people with Alzheimer’s will more than double from about 0.6 percent today to 1.4 percent in 2050, largely due to increasing life expectancy in developing countries.
“It’s a global epidemic and it is only getting worse,” said Marc Wortmann, executive director of Alzheimer Disease International. “If we look into the future the numbers of elderly people will rise dramatically.”
Global life expectancy ballooned from a worldwide average of 47 years in the 1950s to 69 years between 2005 and 2010, according to the United Nations. By 2050, developing countries’ life expectancy is projected to hover near the mid-70s — an approximate ten-year increase from the current average and a striking 30-year improvement from the 1950s.
Since a person’s risk for Alzheimer’s increases steadily every ten years, it follows that Alzheimer’s and dementia cases will concurrently surge in those nations:
Nearly three-quarters of all Alzheimer’s cases are expected to be in middle-income and developing nations by 2050.
As for the United States, where Alzheimer’s is the sixth-leading cause of death and one in three seniors dies with some form of dementia, the Centers for Disease Control predicts that annual treatment costs for the disease could reach a staggering one trillion dollars per year by the middle of the 21st century. Treating Americans with Alzheimer’s and other degenerative illnesses cost $200 billion in 2012, including $140 billion in costs to Medicare and Medicaid.
Researchers and medical professional emphasize that early detection and intervention is key to reducing Alzheimer’s mortality rates.
“An intervention to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s by five years could halve the number of people who die with the disease, having a transformative impact on millions of people’s lives,” said Rebecca Wood, head of Alzheimer’s Research UK. “This progress can only come through research and these figures are a timely reminder of the scale of the challenge ahead of the G8 dementia research summit.”
On Wednesday, British scientists expressed hope that an experimental drug involving monthly injections could prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s, and that a breakthrough in the drug therapy is possible within the next five years.