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Dementia burden significantly higher than previously predicted by 2040

The number of people living with dementia in England and Wales could reach 1.7 million by 2040 – some 42% more than previously forecast, according to new research.

Led by University College London and published in The Lancet Public Health, the researchers examined nine waves of data from people over the age of 50 and living in private households in England between 2002 and 2019, from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

They found that the dementia incidence rate decreased by 28.8% between 2002 and 2008 before increasing by 25.2% between 2008 and 2016 – a rate of 2.8% per year.

If the incidence rate continues to increase at this pace, the number of people with dementia in England and Wales is set to increase to 1.7 million (1.62-1.75) by 2040 – approximately twice the number in 2023 – indicating a considerably larger burden on health and social care than anticipated.

The number of people living with dementia was previously predicted to increase by 57% from 0.77 million in 2016 to 1.2 million in 2040.

In the 2023 study, researchers also examined the temporal trend of dementia incidence according to age, sex, and educational attainment.

They found that the rate of dementia onset within older age groups is increasing, as is the rate between education groups. There was both a slower decline between 2002 and 2008 and a faster increase after 2008 in participants with lower educational attainment.

Principal investigator, Professor Eric Brunner, professor of social and biological epidemiology at UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care, commented: ‘We have found that not only is the ageing population a major driver of the trend in England and Wales but also the number of people developing dementia within older age groups is increasing.

‘We don’t know how long this pattern will continue but the UK needs to be prepared so we can ensure that everyone affected, whatever their financial circumstances, is able to access the help and support that they need.’

James White, Alzheimer’s Society’s head of national influencing, added: ‘We know that one in three people born in the UK today will develop this terminal condition in their lifetime. With prevalence on the rise, improving diagnosis has never been more important.

‘Everyone living with dementia must have access to a timely, accurate and specific diagnosis, and who you are or where you live should have no bearing on this.’