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Monday June 24, 2019


Experts estimate that 75 million people will live with dementia by 2030

Dementia is not a disease in itself, it is a word used to describe a group of symptoms that occur when brain cells stop working properly. The most common disease that causes dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, which affects around two thirds of people with dementia.

Although age is the strongest known risk factor for dementia, it is not an inevitable consequence of ageing. Further, dementia does not exclusively affect older people – young onset dementia defined as the onset of symptoms before the age of 65 years accounts for up to 9% of cases. Some research has shown a relationship between the development of cognitive impairment and life-style related risk factors that are shared with other noncommunicable diseases. These risk factors include physical inactivity, obesity, unhealthy diets, tobacco use and harmful use of alcohol, diabetes, and midlife hypertension. Additional potentially modifiable risk factors include depression, low educational attainment, social isolation, and cognitive inactivity.

Dementia is overwhelming for the families of affected people and for their carer. Physical, emotional and economic pressures can cause great stress to families and carers, and support is required from the health, social, financial and legal systems.

In Australianearly two-thirds of all dementia-related deaths were women; in the US, two-thirds of those living with the disease are women, too. In some cases, dementia even outstrips more famously ‘female’ diseases: Uwomen over 60are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as breast cancer. Breast cancer remains the leading cause of death for UK women aged 35 to 49.

“This can’t be sustained by any medical health system – it is too much in terms of numbers, says Antonella Santuccione-Chadha, a physician and Alzheimer’s specialist based in Switzerland. “And as women are more confronted by the disease, we need to investigate the differences between the male and female specifics of it.”

Much of the gender gap comes down to one of dementia’s biggest risk factors is age. The older you are, the more likely you are to develop late-onset Alzheimer’s. Women typically live longer than men, so more have dementia.

The most obvious differences that come out of the literature are in the display and progression of cognitive and psychiatric symptoms between men and women with Alzheimer’s disease. Based on these new studies we can design new hypotheses and figure out new ways to improve treatment of patients.

Dementia is also one of the priority conditions in the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme, which aims to scale-up care for mental, neurological and substance use disorders, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.


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