“Only a quarter of countries around the world have a national policy, strategy or plan to support people with dementia and their families,” notes the WHO report that analyses the global public health response to dementia released today.

According to the Geneva-based organization, although about half of these countries are located in Europe, many national plans and strategies for dementia need to be updated and renewed by the respective European governments.

Dementia is a syndrome usually of a chronic or progressive nature, which leads to deterioration of cognitive function - the ability to process thought - beyond what is expected under normal aging circumstances.

Resulting from injuries or diseases that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer's, this condition affects memory, thinking, orientation, comprehension, learning ability and language, among other functions.

According to the WHO report, the number of people with dementia is growing worldwide, with an estimated currently 55 million people over 65 years of age suffering from this syndrome, a figure that is expected to increase to 78 million in 2030 and for the 139 million in 2050.

With over 14 million, Europe is the second region in the world with the highest number of people with dementia, behind the Western Pacific region (20.1 million).

“Population growth and increased longevity, combined with the increase in certain dementia risk factors, have led to a dramatic increase in the number of deaths caused by dementia over the past 20 years. In 2019, 1.6 million deaths occurred worldwide due to dementia, making it the seventh leading cause of death”, underlines the document.

The report also warns that people with neurological diseases, including dementia, are more vulnerable to infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, at greater risk of prolonged hospitalization and suffering an aggravated form of Covid-19 and death.

According to the WHO, it is therefore urgent to strengthen support at national level, both for people with dementia, in terms of primary and specialized health care, social services, rehabilitation and long-term and palliative care, but also in terms of support to their formal and informal caregivers.

“In low- and middle-income countries, the majority of dementia care costs are attributable to informal care (65%). In richer countries, informal and social assistance costs reach approximately 40% each”, says the report.

In 2019, caregivers, mostly family members, spent an average of five hours a day supporting the people they cared for with dementia, with approximately 70% of this monitoring carried out by women.

“Given the financial, social and psychological pressure faced by caregivers, access to information, training and services, as well as social and financial support, is particularly important. Currently, 75% of countries report that they offer some level of support to caregivers, although, again, these are mainly high-income countries,” he says.

According to the WHO, a series of unsuccessful clinical trials for the treatment of dementia and the high costs of research and development have led to the “declining interest in developing new scientific efforts” in this matter.

“However, there has been a recent increase in funding for research on dementia, particularly in high-income countries such as Canada, the UK and the US. The latter has increased its annual investment in Alzheimer's disease research from $631 million (about 532 million euros) in 2015 to an estimated 2.8 billion (about 2.3 billion euros) in 2020” , said the organization.

This report on the global status of the disease takes stock of the progress made towards achieving the 2025 global goals set out in the WHO Global Plan of Action on Dementia, published in 2017.