Dementia: a public health priority

Published in 2012, Dementia: a public health priority provides the most authoritative overview of the impact of dementia worldwide. In addition to valuable best practices and practical case studies from around the world, it contains the most comprehensive collection of data, including hard-to-get statistics from low- and middle-income countries.

To prepare the report, the World Health Organization and ADI commissioned reports from four working groups of experts and sought additional inputs from nearly two dozen international contributors and more than 20 expert reviewers. The project leaders were Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, WHO; Marc Wortmann, Executive Director, ADI; Dr Daisy Acosta, former Chairman, ADI; Prof Martin Prince, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London; and Dr Ennapadam S Krishnamoorthy, Director and T.S. Srinivasan Chair, The Institute of Neurological Sciences, India.

The release of the report highlights the commitment of the World Health Organization to making dementia a global health priority by calling on national governments to address the increasing challenges it poses on a global, national, regional and local level.

Key messages from the report

  • Dementia is not a normal part of ageing.
  • 35.6 million people were estimated to be living with dementia in 2010. There are 7.7 million new cases of dementia each year, implying that there is a new case of dementia somewhere in the world every four seconds. The accelerating rates of dementia are cause for immediate action, especially in low- and middle-income countries where resources are few.
  • The huge cost of the disease will challenge health systems to deal with the predicted future increase of prevalence. The costs are estimated at US$604 billion per year at present and are set to increase even more quickly than the prevalence.
  • People live for many years after the onset of symptoms of dementia. With appropriate support, many can and should be enabled to continue to engage and contribute within society and have a good quality of life.
  • Dementia is overwhelming for the caregivers and adequate support is required for them from the health, social, financial and legal systems.
  • Countries must include dementia on their public health agendas. Sustained action and coordination is required across multiple levels and with all stakeholders - at international, national, regional and local levels.
  • People with dementia and their caregivers often have unique insights to their condition and life. They should be involved in formulating the policies, plans, laws and services that relate to them.
  • The time to act is now by:
    - promoting a dementia-friendly society globally;
    - making dementia a national public health and social care priority worldwide;
    - improving public and professional attitudes to, and understanding of, dementia;
    - investing in health and social systems to improve care and services for people with dementia and their caregivers;
    - increasing the priority given to dementia in the public health research agenda.

Where next?