Dementia numbers set for big increase – analysis

Britain is facing a huge increase in the number of people living with dementia – far more than previously anticipated, researchers warned today.

In England and Wales, the total could reach 1.7 million in England and Wales by 2040, according to a study led by University College London. Researchers said this is 40% more than previous forecasts.

Previous studies had suggested incidence of dementia might be declining – but, according to the new analysis, it began to increase in 2008, with the fastest increases among groups with the lowest educational attainment.

They warned of a particular likelihood of incidence rates increasing amongst the most elderly people.

The findings were published today in The Lancet Public Health.

Researcher Dr Yuntao Chen said: “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.

“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.”

Fellow researcher Professor Eric Brunner said: “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.

“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.”

James White, from the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “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.

“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.”

Meanwhile the Society urged caution about a report from the USA suggesting subcutaneous administration could improve the effectiveness of lecanemab. A conference in Boston, Massachusetts, has heard that the technique improves amyloid plaque removal by 14% compared with intravenous administration.

The Society’s associate director of research Dr Richard Oakley said: “Before we get too excited, we would need to see whether there’s proof of actual benefit to patients – rather than just a reduction in levels of amyloid protein – and in a larger group of patients.

“Unlike IV, under-the-skin injections have the exciting potential to be administered at home, but we would still need close monitoring through scans of any patient on the drug to look out for side effects. Right now, with limited scanners, the NHS is not equipped to deliver this at scale.”

Dementia incidence trend in England and Wales, 2002-19, and projection for dementia burden to 2040: analysis of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Lancet Public Health 27 October 2023


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