Researchers from University College London (UCL) have said in The BMJ that by 2040, there will be over 1.2 million people living with dementia in England and Wales, largely due to increased life expectancy.
Their results show that, although the incidence (number of newly diagnosed cases per thousand people) of dementia is falling, the overall prevalence (number of people living with the condition) is set to increase substantially as people live longer and deaths from other causes, such as heart disease, continue to decline.
They used data from 18,000 men and women from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) – a study which began in 2002 to track the health of a representative sample of the population in England aged 50 and older.
Participants were assessed in six waves from 2002 to 2013. At each wave, tests were carried out to assess memory, verbal fluency and numeracy function, and basic activities of daily living (e.g. getting in or out of bed, dressing and eating). Dementia was identified by these assessments, complemented by interviews with carers, or by diagnosis by a doctor.
After accounting for the effect of dropout from the study, the team found the rate of dementia incidence goes down by 2.7% per year between 2002 and 2013. Despite this decline in incidence, the research shows that overall prevalence of dementia is set to increase substantially – mainly due to increased life expectancy.
Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society said:
“With an ageing population and no way to cure, prevent or slow down the condition, dementia is set to be the 21st century’s biggest killer.
“This study shows that the number of people living with dementia is set to increase to 1.2 million in England and Wales over the next 25 years. These latest estimates are yet another wake-up call that the current social care system – already on its knees from decades of underfunding – needs urgent attention from the Government if it’s to cope with the inevitable massive increase in demand. Researchers must unite to achieve breakthroughs in prevention, treatment and care before dementia becomes an even larger health and social care crisis.”
“The study however does show a nugget of good news. In line with other recent studies, it shows that the proportion of people developing dementia at any given age has decreased slightly. This might be due to improved cardiovascular health, or more education and physical activity and shows that dementia doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of ageing.”