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The Takeaway: By The Time You're 90, Dementia Cases Could Triple


A new report from the World Health Organization says dementia cases are set to triple worldwide by 2050. In 2010, 35.6 million people globally had dementia, the WHO said. That figure is expected to double by 2030, to 65.7 million cases. By 2050, it's expected to triple, to 115.million dementia cases.

The numbers are already large and are increasing rather rapidly," said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, the head of WHO's mental health division.

A 50-year-old American might see this global increase by the time he or she hits 90, which more and more people are doing these days (including my grandma Lela, 99, who beat me at cards last weekend). It's driven by low- and middle-income countries, whose share of cases is expected to rise from just under 60 percent today to over 70 percent by 2050. But even in rich countries (like the United States), more than half of dementia cases get overlooked until the disease has reached a late stage, the report notes.

Lack of timely or proper diagnosis is one of the obstacles to better treatment, said Saxena. And many emerging economies (China, India, Brazil) don't have the capacity to deal with a massive dementia increase.

But the increase is not inevitable, nor is dementia inevitable in individuals, the WHO said. A growing body of research has been linking dementia and brain health to nutrition, obesity, diabetes, isolation and many other lifestyle and environmental factors.

Most people regard dementia as a normal sign of aging, which is not correct," said Saxena. "Older people have problems of memory and cognition, but dementia is a disease with much more rapid symptoms and progression."

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