Trends in education, lifestyle impact dementia projections through 2050
Projections presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference estimate that dementia cases will almost triple to more than 152 million by 2050, with the greatest increases expected in Africa and the Middle East.
Positive trends related to global education are anticipated to reduce rates of dementia around the world by 6.2 million cases by 2050, according to a press release from the Alzheimer’s Association. Conversely, trends in smoking, higher BMI and higher blood sugar are expected to increase rates by almost the same number of cases, 6.8 million. As a result, these contradictory trends “come close to balancing each other out,” according to the press release.
“These estimates will allow policymakers and decision makers to better understand the expected increases in the number of individuals with dementia as well as the drivers of these increases in a given geographical setting,” Emma Nichols, MPH, a researcher with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said in the press release. “The large anticipated increase in the number of individuals with dementia emphasizes the vital need for research focused on the discovery of disease-modifying treatments and effective low-cost interventions for the prevention or delay of dementia onset.”
To forecast global dementia incidence and country-level estimates, Nichols and colleagues used data from the Global Burden of Disease study that was obtained between 1999 and 2019. The researchers also sought to improve previous forecasts by including information about trends in dementia risk factors.
Study results projected that cases of dementia would increase from an estimated 57.4 million cases globally in 2019 to an estimated 152.8 million cases in 2050, according to the abstract. The researchers observed “geographic heterogeneity” in these projections, with the greatest increases seen in eastern sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, as well as the Middle East.
However, despite these increases in the rates of projected dementia cases, Nichols and colleagues found that age-standardized rates stayed mostly steady. A decomposition analysis demonstrated that projected increases could “largely” be attributed to population growth and aging, though the researchers noted that the relative importance of these factors varied in different regions of the world. They also attributed the increase of 6.8 million dementia cases between 2019 and 2050 to be related specifically to changes in the risk factors of smoking, high BMI and high fasting plasma glucose.
“Improvements in lifestyle in adults in developed countries and other places — including increasing access to education and greater attention to heart health issues — have reduced incidence in recent years, but total numbers with dementia are still going up because of the aging of the population,” Maria C. Carrillo, PhD, chief science officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a press release. “In addition, obesity, diabetes and sedentary lifestyles in younger people are rising quickly, and these are risk factors for dementia.”
Carrillo also noted that, without treatments to stop, slow or prevent AD and all dementias, the number of cases will continue to increase beyond 2050.
“In addition to therapeutics, it’s critical to uncover culturally-tailored interventions that reduce dementia risk through lifestyle factors like education, diet and exercise,” she said in the press release.
Alzheimer’s Association. Global dementia cases forecasted to triple by 2050. Available at: https://alz.org/aaic/releases_2021/global-prevalence.asp. Accessed July 27, 2021.
Nichols E, et al. The estimation of the global prevalence of dementia from 1990-2019 and forecasted prevalence through 2050: An analysis for the Global Burden of Disease study 2019.