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US $604 billion

That’s the figure given for the worldwide cost of dementia for 2010.
It’s the equivalent of more than 1% of global GDP

That’s just for this year.

The figure comes from the World Alzheimer Report 2010 by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI), which provides the most current and comprehensive account of the true economic and social costs of this disease.
ADI is an international federation of 73 Alzheimer’s associations who support those living with dementia and their families.

Are you ready for some more statistics?

• If dementia were a country it would be the world’s 18th largest economy.

• If dementia was a company it would be the world’s largest by revenue, bigger than Wal-Mart ($US $414 billion) and Exxon Mobil (US$311 billion)

The cost of caring for people with dementia is staggering. People with dementia live for many years, gradually requiring increasing levels of support. In the early stages carers can provide extra help around the home to help with shopping, cooking, housework, laundry and transport to and from medical appointments.
There are also Day centres, Memory café’s and respite facilities that provide fantastic support to the person with dementia and their families.
Then there are dementia specific aged care facilities which provide care for those no longer capable of looking after themselves and need help with all basic activities of daily living such as dressing, eating or simply moving around.

That doesn’t even touch the emotional cost of the disease on families trying to cope when a loved member of the family has dementia. They have to cope with the slow inexorable decline and see the person they once knew gradually fade away into a shell of their former selves.
It is forecast that the cost of caring for people with dementia is likely to rise faster than the prevalence especially in the developing world.

UK reports have suggested that dementia is one of the costliest illnesses to manage.
Professor Ralph Martins from Perth’s McCusker Alzheimer Research Foundation spoke recently about the continuing problem of having to seek sufficient Government grants to continue their valuable research into the disease. Currently, the amounts given for dementia research and investment remains far behind that for heart disease and cancer.

Again going back to UK data, research funding would need to increase by x15 to reach parity with that given to heart disease and x30 to achieve parity with cancer research.

Here in Australia we do have a National Plan to deal with the social and health implications of Alzheimer’s. This is at least a step in the right direction.
However plans need to be made visible and they also have to be implemented to be of any actual value to their population.

It appears that while there is acknowledgment that we are facing a global crisis as the number of people affected by dementia is forecast to escalate exponentially, there appears to be a serious lag in terms of government response to be prepared to deal effectively for this.

Here in West Australia, 23,000 people are currently living with dementia.
This is expected to rise to over 100,000 by 2050, a 375% growth.

Overall in Australia there are around 257,000 people currently living with dementia, which is expected to increase to 1.1 million by 2050.

Around the world there were 35.6 million people with dementia in 2009, around 0.5% of the world’s total population.
This has been forecast to rise to 65.7 million by 2030, to 115.4 million by 2050.

What will be the global cost to the economy then?

The report can be read at www.alz.co.uk/worldreport

It is sobering reading.

However we cannot afford just to sit by and wait and hope for a cure.
We can however be responsible for our own brains and start to put in place simple lifestyle choices to help preserve our own cognition and follow a brain fitness program. This isn’t hard, it’s just something we need to do and we can do.

If we all undertook some initiative to help preserve our brains, to help diminish our risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia or defer it’s onset, then we can all contribute significantly to diminish the bourgeoning global cost to us all, as well as being able to continue to enjoy the benefits of keeping all our marbles.

It’s not rocket science. We can all enjoy good nutrition, and make an effort to remain physically, socially and mentally active.

And we are all capable of doing that.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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