Dementia is a subject that most people try to avoid. Just the thought of memory loss – in a loved one, friend, co-worker or, worse yet, ourselves — makes us terribly uncomfortable. Unless we are confronted directly with dementia, we prefer to think of it as “someone else’s problem.”
But dementia – one of the world’s fastest growing diseases — won’t go away and it is fast becoming “everyone’s problem.” A look at the facts and statistics surrounding dementia clearly show that it is a massive issue, possibly a medical catastrophe in the making, with no easy solution.
World Dementia Statistics
Indeed, the numbers and statistics surrounding dementia are staggering. Worldwide, there are now an estimated 24 million people living with some form of dementia. Without a major medical breakthrough in the fight against dementia, this number could jump to as many as 84 million who have age-related memory loss by the year 2040.
Although there are a number of forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most common, and most well-known, of the age-related memory loss diseases. Currently, more than five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, and it is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. About 13% of Americans over the age of 65 have Alzheimer’s and half of those over age 85 will develop Alzheimer’s — or a closely related dementia.
Health analysts estimate that in just five years the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s will jump to 7.7 million and by 2050 the number is projected to more than double to 16 million. So why is this disease growing so rapidly?
Simply put, our population is “graying” and our citizens are living much longer than any previous generation. In fact, the fastest growing segment of our population is the over 80 age group, and the odds of becoming demented for the very elderly are much higher.
Another aspect to our changing population is how quickly this change has taken place. A person born in 1900 could reasonably hope to reach about the age of 50 – the average life expectancy was just 47 years. However, over the course of the last century a number of factors, such as medical advances, widespread access to health care, improved sanitation and better nutrition have had a tremendous impact on how long we live. Consequently, the average life expectancy for both men and women in the U.S. today is 77 years of age. That’s an incredible increase of 30 years in just one century.
And, with the Baby Boomer generation on the verge of retirement, we are now looking at a shift to an even older society. There are about 77 million in the baby boomer generation. By the year 2030, these men and women will make up approximately 20% of the total U.S. population. As a result, health experts currently estimate that at least 10 million Baby Boomers will develop Alzheimer’s.
The news for older Baby Boomer females is even bleaker as about one-in-six females over the age of 55 could develop Alzheimer’s. Why do more women than men get Alzheimer’s? It’s not anything genetic. It is simply that women traditionally live longer (by about five years in the U.S), so it becomes basically a numbers game.
The statistics surrounding dementia are sobering. If you do not currently know someone with memory loss — a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker — then you most certainly will know someone in the near future.
There are two risk factors for dementia, genetics and aging, and neither of these factors can be controlled. While time and money is being funneled into Alzheimer’s and dementia research, there is no “magic bullet” solution. Currently, there are several “disease-modifying therapies” in development that may offer temporary slowing of disease progression or even restore cognitive function. However, it may take years before these therapies are available to the general public.
The best approach is to adopt a proactive brain health lifestyle today. And, if a loved one or you is experiencing any signs of cognitive loss then you should visit your healthcare professional immediately.