We have known for some time that Alzheimer’s is on the increase, but new predictions show this condition will affect far more of us in the future than previously thought.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in the UK. According to research by the Alzheimer’s Society, about 800,000 people in the UK have dementia, and over half of these – around 496,000 ‒ have Alzheimer’s.
Those diagnosed with this condition develop protein ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ in their brains. They also have low amounts of chemicals important in the transmission of messages throughout the brain.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. With time, the brain becomes increasingly affected and symptoms worsen. Symptoms can include memory loss, mood swings and confusion, sometimes leading to withdrawal from everyday life.
People with Alzheimer’s may have problems with simple things, like remembering names and working basic household equipment. As the disease progresses they increasingly need more help.
Reducing your risk
‘The main risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease is ageing,’ says Jessica Smith, Research Officer at the Alzheimer’s Society. ‘But there are other factors that play a role. You can reduce your risk by taking regular exercise, keeping to a healthy diet, maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and sticking to sensible alcohol limits.’
‘The evidence around risk reduction for Alzheimer’s disease shows that a Mediterranean diet is best. So go for lots of fruit and vegetables, not many processed foods and saturated fat, and olive oil.’
Alzheimer’s around the world
In the World Alzheimer Report 2009, Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), using information from 154 studies, and United Nations population projections up to 2050, estimated that:
- There would be 36 million people with dementia in 2010
- This number would almost double every 20 years
- There would be 66 million people with dementia by 2030
- There would be 115 million people with dementia by 2050
- 58 per cent of those with dementia lived in countries with low or middle level incomes
However, a recent review by ADI found that figures for those with dementia worldwide have increased by 22 per cent since the last estimates in 2010.
There are currently 44 million people living with dementia. That figure is set to reach 76 million by 2030, and 135.46 million by 2050. And by 2050 the proportion of people living with dementia in currently low and middle income countries is estimated to rise to 71 per cent.
The drain on the economies of countries globally will be enormous. Dementia currently costs the UK economy £23 billion a year. Ageing is the greatest risk factor for dementia, and the populations of many countries are living longer. So not only will the number of people living with Alzheimer’s rise, the cost of treating and caring for them will increase dramatically.
‘We don’t have an awful lot of information about how people with Alzheimer’s are taken care of in other countries,’ says Jessica Smith, Research Officer at the Alzheimer’s Society. ‘We do know that diagnosis is an issue, as it is here.’
‘There are countries where the disease is so stigmatized that it’s not very well diagnosed at all. It may be hidden from the community, with people looked after at home. Sometimes the condition just isn’t recognized, and symptoms are just put down to ageing.’
So far there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, but some drugs can slow the progress of the disease in some people.
The AXA Research Fund
In February 2014, AXA and the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris announced the launch of a permanent Chair for research into Alzheimer’s disease. The Chair is being funded by the AXA Research Fund, which has supported 166 academic research teams, investigating health issues, since 2007.
The Fund’s EUR 3 million will fund research by internationally recognized expert in Alzheimer’s disease Professor Harald Hampel. He aims to improve the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease before symptoms start to show, and so prevent the effects of it.
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s
Looking after someone with dementia means helping them with many aspects of their life – and having to do more for them as their condition progresses. Helping them stay fit and healthy will be beneficial for them, and could make your life happier and easier too.
Providing nourishing food is important to keep them healthy and reduce their risk of weight loss, tiredness and becoming more physically disabled. Making sure they are drinking enough is also important. Lack of fluids mean they can become dehydrated, confused and more at risk of constipation and urinary tract infections.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s can be more than a full-time job, depending on their mental and physical condition, so it is important to ask for help when you need it and to try to arrange time for yourself. For more information on caring for someone with Alzheimer’s go to www.alzheimers.org.uk
1.What is Alzheimer’s disease? (PDF)
2.Global Impact of Dementia 2013 – 2050 (embargoed (2)
3.13 12 03 G8 Press release