The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently updated its fact sheet on dementia.
Dementia is a syndrome – usually of a chronic or progressive nature – that leads to deterioration in cognitive function (i.e. the ability to process thought) beyond what might be expected from the usual consequences of biological ageing. It affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, calculation, learning capacity, language, and judgement. Consciousness is not affected. The impairment in cognitive function is commonly accompanied, and occasionally preceded, by changes in mood, emotional control, behaviour, or motivation.
The signs and symptoms linked to dementia can be understood in three stages.
Early stage: the early stage of dementia is often overlooked because the onset is gradual. Common symptoms may include:
- losing track of the time
- becoming lost in familiar places.
Middle stage: as dementia progresses to the middle stage, the signs and symptoms become clearer and may include:
- becoming forgetful of recent events and people’s names
- becoming confused while at home
- having increasing difficulty with communication
- needing help with personal care
- experiencing behaviour changes, including wandering and repeated questioning
Late stage: the late stage of dementia is one of near total dependence and inactivity. Memory disturbances are serious and the physical signs and symptoms become more obvious and may include:
- becoming unaware of the time and place
- having difficulty recognizing relatives and friends
- having an increasing need for assisted self-care
- having difficulty walking
- experiencing behaviour changes that may escalate and include aggression.
Worldwide, around 55 million people have dementia, with over 60% living in low- and middle-income countries, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year. As the proportion of older people in the population is increasing in nearly every country, this number is expected to rise to 78 million in 2030 and 139 million in 2050.
Dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death among all diseases and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people globally.
Dementia results from a variety of diseases and injuries that primarily or secondarily affect the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and may contribute to 60-70% of cases.
Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not an inevitable consequence of ageing– young onset dementia (defined as the onset of symptoms before the age of 65 years) accounts for up to 9% of cases.
Dementia has physical, psychological, social and economic impacts, not only for people living with dementia, but also for their carers, families and society at large. Fifty percent of the global cost of dementia is attributed to informal care.
Globally, dementia has a disproportionate impact on women. Sixty-five percent of total deaths due to dementia are women, and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) due to dementia are roughly 60% higher in women than in men. Additionally, women provide the majority of informal care for people living with dementia, accounting for 70% of carer hours.
There is currently no treatment available to cure dementia. Anti-dementia medicines and disease-modifying therapies developed to date have limited efficacy and are primarily labeled for Alzheimer’s disease.
The principal goals for dementia care are:
- early diagnosis in order to promote early and optimal management
- optimizing physical health, cognition, activity and well-being
- identifying and treating accompanying physical illness
- understanding and managing behaviour changes
- providing information and long-term support to carers.
Studies show that people can reduce their risk of cognitive decline and dementia by
- being physically active
- not smoking,
- avoiding harmful use of alcohol,
- controlling their weight,
- eating a healthy diet,
- maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and
- avoiding social isolation, cognitive inactivity, and air pollution.
Link to the updated WHO fact sheet:
Link to WHO health topic Dementia: