Alzheimer's charity calls for urgent action as figures predict one in three of those born in 2015 will develop dementia

Image shows healthy brain, left, compared to the brain of an Alzheimer's sufferer. Credit: SBarnes.
Image shows healthy brain, left, compared to the brain of an Alzheimer's sufferer. Credit: SBarnes.

New analysis commissioned by Alzheimer's Research UK and carried out by the Office of Health Economics has revealed that 32% of babies born this year will go on to suffer from dementia in their lifetime.

The findings, announced yesterday to mark World Alzheimer’s Day, suggest what Alzheimer's UK describes as a "looming national health crisis" - a side effect of an ageing population and extended life expectancy - that underscores the need for investment towards the development of new treatments.

Calculations were based on the number of people born this year who are expected to develop the condition, taking into account life expectancy estimates and estimates of dementia incidence in men and women of varying ages. The report estimates that:

  • 27% of males born in 2015 will develop the condition
  • 37% of females born in 2015 will develop the condition
  • A combined 32% of people born in the UK 2015 will develop dementia during their lifetime.

There are 850,000 dementia sufferers in the UK, 550,000 of whom have the most common form of dementia - Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer's Society estimates that there are 670,000 people caring for a person with dementia in an unpaid capacity, many of whom have given up employment in order to provide around the clock care in what is often difficult and emotionally challenging work with little respite.

Charities have been calling for more funding from the government to plough into research as there is still much about the disease and what causes it that is still not understood.

"Life became extremely stressful"

Amanda Franks, from Swindon, a Champion of Alzheimer’s Research UK, whose mum Cathy was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s six years ago,describes the impact dementia has had on her family:"My mum was only 58 when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Up until then we had no idea this devastating disease could affect someone so young. Simple day-to-day tasks like making a cup of tea, getting dressed and eating soon became a huge challenge for Mum. Dad cared for her at home with family help for five years by which time things were getting out of hand with her violent behaviour and hallucinations – life became extremely stressful.

"As a mum myself, I would dearly love to see preventions and new treatments found to defeat Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, giving hope to people now and future generations. These new statistics are terrifying but they will open everyone’s eyes to the enormity of the situation. Research can beat dementia and, with more investment, Alzheimer’s Research UK can drive the next breakthrough so urgently needed."

Dr Matthew Norton, Head of Policy at Alzheimer’s Research UK, says: "These figures underline a stark reality: as people are living longer, more and more people will develop dementia in the future if action is not taken now to tackle the condition. It’s wonderful news that each generation is living longer than the last, but it’s important to ensure that people can enjoy these extra years in good health. Dementia is our greatest medical challenge and if we are to beat it, we must invest in research to find new treatments and preventions. If we could delay the onset of dementia by five years, we could reduce the number of people living with the condition by a third. Research has the power to transform lives, and our actions now will help determine the future for children born today. The hundreds of thousands of families affected by dementia now deserve to know that we are fighting for them."

What is known about the causes of dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term for a range of degenerative brain conditions, with differing causes.

Alzheimer's, the most common type of dementia, is caused by defective amyloid proteins in the brain. Amyloid is a useful protein, produced naturally in the brain via a complex process. In those who have Alzheimer’s, scientists have long suspected that the delicate balance of amyloid, for reasons as yet unknown, goes awry and an abnormal type of amyloid begins to accumulate in between nerve cells, causing an obstruction to normal cell communication.

This accumulation, known as plaques,eventually results in brain tissue damage and dementia. Research has shown that this build up can begin as much as 10-15 years prior to symptoms appearing, so some scientists seeking a way to slow or prevent the disease have focused on this area.A new drug, solanezumab, which is still subject to clinical trialsafter an uncertain start, has shown to have the potential to slow down the disease if it is prescribed at an early stage.

The second most common type of dementia, vascular dementia, is caused by poor blood supply to the brain, and is often triggered by a stroke. Around 150,000 people in the UK have vascular dementia.Smoking and poor diet are known to contribute to an increased risk of developing vascular dementia, as these factors increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

What are the symptoms of dementia?

The damage or loss of brain tissue leads to a range of symptoms including memory loss or gaps in memory, difficulty comprehending basic information, impaired problem solving ability,interruptions in thought processes and problems communicating. Sufferers may become withdrawn, confused and uncommunicative as they struggle to comprehend what is happening to them. They may exhibit a change in personality. As brain cell loss worsens and the disease advances, physical functions such as walking and even the ability to chew and swallow can be lost.

What is the wider impact?

As well as causing immense frustration and confusion to sufferers, dementia is also tremendously difficult for loved ones. Trying to support and care for a family member or friend throughout what is at times a prolonged period of mental and physical degeneration can prove very challenging and upsetting, particularly when the person rarely recognises who you are. Sufferers may also become aggressive and even violent towards those who care for them, as they themselves become increasingly distressed.

In terms of wider societal impact, the Alzheimer's Society estimates that the annual cost of dementia in the UK is £26.3 billion, £17.4 billion of which is unpaid care provided by family and friends or the cost of private care, paid by patients or their families.

For more information and support, visit Alzheimer's UK or the Alzheimer's Society websites.

What can I do to lower my risk?

According to NHS Choices, a healthy lifestyle can help lower your risk of developing dementia. To reduce your risk of developing dementia and other serious health conditions, the NHS recommends:

  • eat a healthy diet, low in fat and high in wholegrains and fresh fruit and vegetables
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • exercise regularly
  • imit alcohol consumption
  • stop smoking
  • aim to keep blood pressure under control.

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Georgie Fenn, writes most of our news articles and social media posts.