Saturday, November 28, 2009

Dementia threatens older people in poorer countries

From Reuters:

LONDON - Dementia is the biggest cause of disability in old people in poorer countries and the problem and its costs for society will grow rapidly as populations age, doctors said on Nov. 27.

British researchers studied 15,000 elderly people in seven low- and middle-income countries and found that, contrary to previous expert opinion, dementia, not blindness, is by far the biggest cause of poor health in old age.

Renata Sousa of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, who led the study, said this was contrary to World Health Organisation estimates that visual impairment and blindness were the biggest problems.

"Chronic diseases of the brain and mind deserve increased prioritisation," she wrote in the study published in The Lancet.

"Besides disability, they lead to dependency and present stressful, complex, long-term challenges to carers. Societal costs are enormous."

Despite decades of research, doctors still have few effective weapons against dementia, a brain-wasting disease which effects some 35 million people around the world.

The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's and Alzheimer's Disease International predicts the number of sufferers will almost double every 20 years -- to 66 million in 2030 and more than 115 million in 2050 -- with much of the increase coming in poorer nations. [ID:nN20262573]

Sousa and colleagues looked at 15,000 people aged 65 or older in China, India, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Mexico, and Peru and worked out the proportion of disability that was due to certain illnesses.

They found that in regions other than rural India and Venezuela, dementia made the largest contribution to disability with 25 percent prevalence.

Other causes of disability were stroke, limb impairment, arthritis, and depression, with eyesight problems accounting for around 7 percent.

The study also found that factors linked to chronic diseases -- like heart disease, diabetes and lung conditions -- accounted for around two-thirds of disability.

There are few studies of disability among older people in poorer countries but the researchers said such work would be increasingly important as populations age.

Numbers of older people are increasing particularly rapidly in low- and middle- income countries, they said, and are expected to rise from 490 million to 1.6 billion between 2010 and 2050.