50+ health * Healthy living

Dementia a 'global health time bomb'

Dementia a  global health time bomb Numbers expected to double by 2020

Dementia is a global health time bomb and should be made a world health priority, a leading expert has said.

At an international conference today, Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, will call for the World Health Organisation to make dementia a top priority alongside cancer, diabetes, lung disease and chronic heart disease.

Prof Piot, who is also a former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, will call for a UN General Assembly special session on mental health and dementia, and ask world leaders to sign up to a global action plan.

Prof Piot told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the number of people living with dementia will continue to rise due to longer lifespans and better healthcare, particularly in countries such as Asia and Latin America.

He said: "I have worked for the last 30 years on AIDS. That was a time bomb several decades ago but it's still not over.

"Today 36 million people are living with dementia. Every seven seconds there is a new case and we will see a doubling in the number of people with dementia by 2020.

"People in the emerging economies, like Asia and Latin America, are living longer and dementia is progressing fastest there in terms of the numbers.

"The economic costs are also enormous. Just in the UK it cost around £20 billion every year.

"It's affecting families, communities and of course the people themselves."

He also said there were two myths about dementia that needed to be debunked; the first that dementia was a normal part of ageing and the second that nothing could be done to treat the disease. Although incurable, there are treatments to slow down its development.

Unlike treatment for cancer and heart disease that added "years to your life," early treatment of dementia added "life to your years," Prof Piot said.

The WHO could help countries develop action plans to identify cases early and promote the best strategies for prevention and treatment, he said.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Society, said: "In the UK the way we fail to deal with dementia is a recipe for disaster.

"Just 40 per cent of people have a diagnosis and the government invests eight times less in dementia research than cancer.

"Our health and social care system should be a model for other countries, rather than an embarrassment.

"Today is our chance to turn this around by leading the way in committing to this action plan and building a better future for people with dementia."

This article was published on Wed 7 March 2012

Image © Sebastian Kaulitzki - Fotolia.com

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