Alzheimer’s cases severely underestimated in developing nations


(Bloomberg) — Alzheimer’s cases are greatly underestimated in East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa and Colombia, researchers said, which may lead to poor policy making and inadequate health-careservices.

Alzheimer’s Disease International revised their global estimate of people with dementia to 44 million people from 36 million, based on a review of studies presented today at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Copenhagen.

In Colombia, Alzheimer’s prevalence may be underestimated by as much as 50 percent, according to a study by Yuri Takeuchi of the Universidad Icesi, also presented at the conference. In contrast, studies have shown that new cases of dementia are starting later in the developed world, including the U.S., England, Germany and the Netherlands, as management of cardiovascular health improves and education levels rise.

Without accurate data, “policy makers will think it’s not a problem, and it can impact service planning, such as nursing homes,” said Marc Wortmann, executive director of Alzheimer’s Disease International, in an interview in New York.

In the U.S., where the population is aging and Alzheimer’s is acknowledged as one of the most deadly diseases, the government pledged $45 million in added research funding for the disease in September. In some developing nations, however, basic misunderstandings abound, Wortmann said.

About 59 percent of people worldwide believe that Alzheimer’s disease is a typical part of aging, according to survey of more than 6,000 people in 12 nations by the Alzheimer’s Association, published in June. In China, 80 percent of those surveyed thought it was a typical part of aging, compared to 37 percent in the U.K.

Family Toll

The disease can take a toll on both the patients and their families, affected by cultural attitudes and care-giving norms.

“In Asia, family tend to be the caregivers, and training and support can make it less stressful for the family,” Wortmann said. In some African countries including Ghana and Nigeria, “it’s quite common for people with Alzheimer’s to be put in witch camps out of the community because the community thinks they’re possessed.”

The world’s population is aging, and by 2050, the number of people older than 60 will exceed the number under age 15 for the first time in history, according a 2001 report y the United Nations. Research into Alzheimer’s therapies has been disappointing; there are no drugs on the market that can prevent or cure the disease, only to treat the symptoms.

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