November 03, 2012

The Prevalence and Impact of Alzheimer's Disease

The Prevalence of Alzheimer's Disease:

Alzheimer’s disease is the fourth most common lethal disease in the world.  In Europe, it is estimated to affect about 3% of 70-79 year olds rising to nearly 11% among those aged 80-89.  There are over 300,000 people with Alzheimers Disease in the United Kingdom alone.

The Socio-economic Impact of Alzheimer's Disease:

The impact on the sufferer is enormous with a progressive decline in cognition, general functioning, self-care ability and behaviour.  The financial and psychological impacts on carers are also substantial.  Admission to long-term care becomes inevitable with disease progression and this results in extremely high total health and social service costs.  The best available estimate for England in 1990/91 was over £1 billion.  In 1999, The Economists Advisory Group carried out a detailed analysis of annual costs, including costs of informal caring.  They found that the average cost of care per person with dementia ranges from £21,000 per year in the first three years to £30,000 per year after nine years.

The Future, and the Importance of Research:

Of course, the ageing of the world population will greatly compound the future impact of the disease on health and social care costs.

In 2009 the World Alzheimer Report estimated that 35.6 million people worldwide would be living with dementia in 2010. However, this figure is expected to almost double every 20 years, to 65.7 million in 2030, and a staggering 115.4 million in 2050. The majority of this increase will likely be due to an increased prevalence of dementia in low and middle income countries.

Alzheimer's Disease therefore represents an important research challenge.  It has been described as a scientific puzzle, a ‘medical whodunit’, a psychosocial tragedy, a financial disaster or an ethical, legal and political dilemma, depending on ones’ individual viewpoint.

In our next Update we will take a brief look at the "dementia syndrome" itself, and also discuss its other possible causes. 

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