Dementia Risk Factors Explained As 10 Million Americans Could Have Condition by 2050

A new report suggests that by 2050, 153 million people will be living with dementia worldwide. The paper, published in The Lancet, states that dementia cases are expected to nearly triple from 57 million in 2019, as a result of population growth and population aging.

Cases of dementia in the U.S. are predicted to rise from almost 5.3 million in 2019 to over 10.5 million by 2050. The authors of the study, which considered 195 territories across the globe, predict that the worst affected regions of the world will be Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, with increases of 1,926 percent and 1,795 percent respectively.

The study also outlines this rise in dementia sufferers as it relates to several important risk factors including smoking, obesity, high blood sugar, and low education.

Hilary Evans, chief executive of Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "Dementia is our greatest long-term medical challenge. These striking figures lay bare the shocking scale of dementia across the world. Today there are already 57 million people too many living with this devastating condition, and we need to see concerted global action to avoid this number tripling.

"Dementia doesn't just affect individuals, it can devastate whole families and networks of friends and loved ones. The heartbreaking personal cost of dementia goes hand-in-hand with huge economic and societal impacts, strengthening the case to governments across the world to do more to protect lives now and in the future."

The authors of the study suggest that improved education could reduce cases by around 6.2 million cases worldwide by 2050. This will be offset by a 6 to 8 million increase in dementia cases caused as a result of trends in factors like obesity, high blood sugar, and smoking.

The authors call for research to discover effective disease-modifying treatments and new modifiable risk factors to reduce the future burden of dementia, the most common form of which is Alzheimer's disease, which causes between 60 and 70 percent of cases.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), dementia is currently the seventh leading cause of death worldwide and one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people globally. WHO estimates that in 2019 than the financial burden of the condition was more than $1.3 trillion worldwide.

Even though dementia mainly affects older people, WHO pointed out that it is not an inevitable consequence of aging.

A Lancet study published in 2020 suggested that up to 40 percent of dementia cases could be prevented or delayed by reducing exposure to 12 known risk factors —low education, high blood pressure, hearing impairment, smoking, midlife obesity, depression, physical inactivity, diabetes, social isolation, excessive alcohol consumption, head injury, and air pollution.

Evans continued: "There is robust evidence that what's good for the heart is also good for the brain. Not smoking, only drinking within the recommended limits, staying mentally and physically active, eating a balanced diet, and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check can all help to keep our brains healthy as we age."

She concluded: "The news that almost 7 million new global cases could be down to poor heart health must act as a wake-up call for us all.

"With many thinking about new year resolutions, I would urge people to consider some simple steps we can all take to stay brain healthy.

A woman crushing a cigarette
A stock image of a woman crushing a cigarette. A new study says dementia could triple worldwide by 2050 highlighting smoking as a risk factor that needs to be reduced. Doucefleur/Getty