Dire dementia prediction from UCL researchers

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Researchers from University College London (UCL) have concluded that by 2040, there will be over 1.2 million people living with dementia in England and Wales, largely due to increased life expectancy.

Their results, published in the BMJ, show that, although the incidence of dementia is falling, the overall prevalence is set to increase substantially as people live longer and deaths from other causes, such as heart disease, continue to fall.

The researchers used data from 18,000 men and women from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. The study began in 2002 with the purpose of tracking the health of a representative sample of the population in England aged 50 and older.

Participants were assessed in six waves from 2002 to 2013. At each wave, tests were carried out to assess memory, verbal fluency and numeracy function, and basic activities of daily living, for example getting in or out of bed, dressing and eating. Dementia was identified by these assessments, complemented by interviews with carers, or by diagnosis by a doctor.

After accounting for the effect of dropout from the study, the team found the rate of dementia incidence went down by 2.7% per year between 2002 and 2013. Despite this decline in incidence, the research shows that overall prevalence of dementia is set to increase substantially, which is mainly attributed to increased life expectancy.

Dr James Pickett, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Society, said: “These latest estimates are yet another wake–up call that the current social care system – already on its knees from decades of underfunding – needs urgent attention from the Government if it’s to cope with the inevitable massive increase in demand. Researchers must unite to achieve breakthroughs in prevention, treatment and care before dementia becomes an even larger health and social care crisis.”

Dr Pickett added that there was some good news in the research results. “In line with other recent studies, it shows that the proportion of people developing dementia at any given age has decreased slightly. This might be due to improved cardiovascular health, or more education and physical activity and shows that dementia doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of ageing.”