As the baby boomer generation sails into their senior years, rates of dementia are soaring to never-before-experienced heights. With the disease expected to spread exponentially within the next generation, some experts believe we’re headed towards the worst medical disaster in human history.
That probably got your attention, and it should. Here’s what’s happening : dementia is unfortunately already considered commonplace among the elderly, with those afflicted totaling just about 36 million. However, according to the newest statistics recently released by the World Health Organization (WHO), that number is expected to hit 2 billion by the year 2050.
At that point, Alternet reports dementia will cost the U.S. alone over $1 trillion in medical care. Not to put too fine a point on it, Dr. Barry Greenberg, director of the Toronto Dementia Research Alliance, reported to MIT’s Technology Review, "The scope of the looming medical care disaster is beyond comparison with anything that has been faced during the entire history of humanity.”
The syndrome, dementia, is caused by several diseases, but its most common cause is Alzheimer’s.
For those who’ve never witnessed a loved one experience the debilitating slide into a mental no-man’s land, it may be difficult to grasp the severity of the illness, which encompasses physical as well as mental impairments. But the statistics should help illuminate the disease’s danger. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that Alzheimer's is currently the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and it's the only disease on the top ten list that “cannot be cured, prevented, or even slowed."
Alternet reports that tens of billions of dollars have been spent to find and develop a single drug that could stop or at least slow the disease, and still, after decades, we have nothing to show for our efforts. The WHO is hoping that by releasing these latest statistics, more attention will be paid to problem and more funding provided.
In the meantime, what's showing promise is that since 2005, it’s been widely suspected that of the causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s may in fact actually be a type of diabetes. And if that turns out to be true, then like diabetes, Alzheimer’s may be controlled through diet.
Of course, “widely suspected” and “proven” are two different places on the spectrum of health care, but so far evidence suggests that there is hope in that direction. And when you’re facing a medical issue of this magnitude, whether you're a sufferer or a caregiver, hope is no small gift.
Have you had a loved one afflicted by dementia? Tell us about your experience in the Comments.
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A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and medical writer. In addition to reporting the weekend news on TakePart, she volunteers as a web editor for locally-based nonprofits and works as a freelance feature writer for TimeOutLA.com. Email Andri | @andritweets | TakePart.com