News Release

World Health Organization and Alzheimer's Disease International Urge Governments To Make Dementia A Priority

22 May 2012, Geneva

New Report Calls Alzheimer’s a Public Health Threat, Calls for International Collaboration

At a special event held today in conjunction with the World Health Assembly, the World Health Organization and Alzheimer’s Disease International urged governments and other stakeholders to step up international cooperation and information sharing on Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. The highlights of a new joint WHO/ADI report, Dementia: A Public Health Priority, were shared as well as recent progress in developing national plans for dementia and Alzheimer’s. 

Speaking at the event, Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the WHO, said, “The launch of this report marks a significant turning point in the fight against dementia. We urge governments to develop national Alzheimer’s and dementia plans, and the report gives them the tools to do so. Since dementia is directly linked to ageing, both the human and fiscal consequences of this disease rise exponentially as people live longer with each passing decade. The governments need to act now; before it is too late.”

Marc Wortmann, Executive Director of Alzheimer’s Disease International, emphasized the urgent need for action: “The evidence is clear: Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are already becoming the global health crisis of the twenty-first century, and we must act now to forestall further assault by the disease. The rising incidence of Alzheimer’s affects everyone, from low- and middle-income nations as well as those from richer countries. This report helps government leaders, researchers, and medical professionals understand the extent to which dementia is going to challenge our public health systems in an era of ageing populations.”

Dementia is already reaching epidemic proportions. Every four seconds, there is a new case of dementia somewhere in the world. ADI research shows that the annual costs associated with dementia are $604 billion, or roughly 1% of global GDP. As lifespans lengthen further in the coming decades, these numbers are poised to explode.

These trends are particularly significant for developing countries, especially for those in Asia, where populations are aging most rapidly. According to Dr. Jacob Roy, chairman of ADI, “The WHO report makes it clear that Alzheimer’s is a public health crisis of global proportions. I am honored to serve as ADI chairman at a time when the world and the public health community are finally stepping up to their responsibilities.  We desperately need more effective care, earlier detection and diagnosis, and significantly more funding for research to enable prevention and cures. In my home country, India, we especially need a new approach for Alzheimer’s that gives us a pathway to redefine how we feel and think about the disease, forever eliminating the stigma that has stymied progress to date.”

Non-communicable diseases is a major theme of this year’s World Health Assembly (WHA), taking place this week in Geneva, where 194  ministers of health are convening to address the critical global health challenges, including Alzheimer’s and other NCDs. The WHA is carrying on from last September’s historic United Nations summit on NCDs, in which the UN produced an outcome document that acknowledged “that mental and neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, are an important cause of morbidity and contribute to the global non-communicable disease burden.”

Meanwhile, a growing number of nations, including Singapore and Mexico, are developing national plans to deal with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The most recent news on this front came with the May 15 launch of National Plan to Address Alzheimer's Disease in the United States. Through research and education initiatives – including a bold new clinical trial to test whether a drug can prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s before any symptoms appear – the U.S. plan aims to develop effective preventions and treatments for the disease by 2025.

To date, Alzheimer’s has received a fraction of the funding that has gone to major NCDs. This is true around the world.  In the U.S., for example, the government invests less than $500 million a year on Alzheimer’s research, compared with $5.8 billion on cancer, $4.3 billion on heart disease, and $3.1 billion on HIV/AIDs, according to data from the National Institutes of Health. Under the new national plan, a new funding system will reflect the high incidence of Alzheimer’s within aging populations.

“While the news from the U.S. represents a major step forward, we have a long way to go toward effective global planning for Alzheimer’s,” said Wortmann.  “And a key challenge,” he continued, “is the terrible stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s.  This will be the main topic of our 2012 World Alzheimer Report, to be released on 21 September.”

For further information, please contact:

Alzheimer’s Disease International (London), +44 20 7981 0880,

How to obtain a copy of the report

Dementia: A Public Health Priority is available for download at

About dementia and Alzheimer’s disease

Dementia is a syndrome that can be caused by a number of progressive disorders that affect memory, thinking, behavior and the ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.

About WHO and ADI

The World Health Organization is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.  For more information, visit

Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) is the international federation of 78 Alzheimer associations that support people with dementia and their families in their respective countries. Founded in 1984, ADI serves as a network for Alzheimer associations around the world to share and exchange information, resources and skills. Its vision is “a better quality of life for people with dementia and their families.” ADI is based in London and is registered as a non-profit organization in the state of Illinois. For more information, visit