Research has shown that dementia case rates have been declining in recent years, though absolute case numbers will continue to go up as more people reach old age. However, a new study finds that this decreasing rate trend may not have been the case over the past decade, which means cases may be higher than currently projected in the next 20 years.
Research recently published in The Lancet Public Health investigated dementia rates in England and Wales between 2002 and 2019, with the team saying that evidence on rate trends after 2010 hasn’t been as thorough. Using data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing and the mortality register, the researchers looked at dementia trends in age, sex, and educational attainment. They then used a model to apply current trends to future dementia incidence, finding that there may be 42% more people living with dementia by 2040 than is currently projected.
Eric Brunner, principal researcher and professor at University College London’s Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, says, “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.”
The team says prior research had predicted that dementia case numbers in England and Wales would go up 57% – or from 0.77 million to 1.2 million – between 2016 and 2040. Their research, however, pushes that up to possibly 1.7 million. This is due to their finding that though dementia rates fell by 28.8% between 2002 and 2008, they actually went up again between 2008 and 2016, by 25.2%.
Though increases applied across different age, sex, and educational attainment groups, it was especially pronounced among people with a lower education level. This may not be surprising, as research has found education level is linked with dementia risk, and taking adult education courses may help older people keep their brains sharp.
If the findings of the current study prove to be true, the researchers say health and social care will experience a significant burden.
Dr. Yuntao Chen, lead author from UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care, says, “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.”