Posted on Nov 14, 2023, 1 p.m.
By 2040 up to 1.7 million people could be living with dementia in England and Wales, this number is more than 40% higher than what has been previously forecasted, according to a recent report published in The Lancet Public Health from a UCL-led study.
Prior research based on data up to 2010 suggested that the rate of dementia incidence had been declining in high-income countries, however, the new data shows that the rate started to increase after 2008. Based on the increasing trend, the number of people affected with dementia could be significantly higher than expected in the future.
Previous research suggested that the number of people living with dementia in England and Wales was previously predicted to increase by 57% from 0.77 million people in 2016 to 1.2 million people by 2040. The new research funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council suggests that that number was wrong, and the figure could be as high as 1.7 million or more.
For this study, the researcher examined nine waves of data from residents aged 50+ living in private households between 2002-2019 from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). The researchers report that the dementia incidence rate decreased by 28.8% between 2002-2008 but increased by 25.2% between 2008-2016.
Increasing dementia rates are most often attributed to an aging population, but the researchers also reported that the rate of dementia onset within older age groups itself is also increasing. Additionally, a similar non-linear pattern was observed across subgroups according to age, sex, and education level. Specifically, disparities were found in the rate of dementia incidence was increasing between education groups as there was a slower decline in 2022-2008 and a faster increase after 2008 in those with lower levels of educational attainment.
According to the researchers, if the rate increases as fast as it was found to between 2008 and 2016 with a 2.8% increase per year, the number of people predicted to be living with dementia in England and Wales could increase to 1.7 million people by 2040 which is approximately twice the amount of people in 2023. If the rate had continued to decline as previously reported the estimated number of people would have been one million, compared to the now 1.7 million people after the correction was made.
“It is shocking to think that the number of people living with dementia by 2040 may be up to 70% higher than if dementia incidence had continued to decline,” said lead author, Dr Yuntao Chen (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care).“Not only will this have a devastating effect on the lives of those involved but it will also put a considerably larger burden on health and social care than current forecasts predict.” “Continued monitoring of the incidence trend will be crucial in shaping social care policy.”
“Our research has exposed that dementia is likely to be a more urgent policy problem than previously recognised – even if the current trend continues for just a few years,” said Principal investigator, Professor Eric Brunner (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care). “We have found that not only is the ageing population a major driver of the trend in England and Wales but also the number of people developing dementia within older age groups is increasing.” “We don’t know how long this pattern will continue but the UK needs to be prepared so we can ensure that everyone affected, whatever their financial circumstances, is able to access the help and support that they need.”
“Dementia is the biggest health and social care issue of our time. Statistics from this Lancet Public Health study are a stark reminder that, without action, the individual and economic devastation caused by dementia shows no sign of stopping,” said James White, Alzheimer’s Society’s Head of National Influencing. “We know that one in three people born in the UK today will develop this terminal condition in their lifetime. With prevalence on the rise, improving diagnosis has never been more important. Everyone living with dementia must have access to a timely, accurate and specific diagnosis, and who you are or where you live should have no bearing on this. The figures also make it clear that pressure on our already struggling social care system is only going to increase. Quality social care can make a huge difference to people's lives, but we know that people with dementia – who are the biggest users of social care – are struggling with a care system that’s costly, difficult to access, and too often not tailored to their needs."
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