Home | Blogs | Opinion: The increasing burden of Dementia in Low and Middle Income Countries, and how this may be eased in the future.

Opinion: The increasing burden of Dementia in Low and Middle Income Countries, and how this may be eased in the future.

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Most people know the devastating impact that dementia can have on a person and their family, and it is rare to find someone who has not known someone affected by the disease in the UK.

However, perhaps less often thought about is the impact that dementia also has in less developed countries. Healthcare burdens that may spring to mind when thinking of Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) may be more along the lines of infectious diseases. However, as countries develop, infectious disease prevalence tends to decrease, due to better housing conditions and hygiene practices, and age-related disease prevalence increases, due to increased life-expectancy leading to ageing populations. The altered demographics of regions bring about new healthcare burdens, and an increasing problem in many developing countries is dementia.

Whilst researching for a project on “Dementia Risk Prediction Modelling in Low and Middle Income Countries”, I was shocked to find that over 66% of the world’s dementia cases are in LMICS, with LMIC dementia cases predicted to increase by 246% by 2050. This puts a huge strain on already overstretched and under-funded healthcare systems in many of these countries, yet most research into dementia takes place in High Income Countries (HICs), as this is where the majority of research funding comes from.

There is undeniably a stigma surrounding mental health problems across the world. This is arguably due to a lack of understanding of the disease processes underlying psychiatric disorders, and a lack of awareness that effective management can aid recovery or stabilisation of someone’s condition. With increasing ageing populations in many countries, there needs to be more focus on educating people on not only the symptoms of dementia and how to seek treatment for it, but greater publicity of the major risk factors for dementia. This is because some risk factors are modifiable, such as obesity, social engagement and hearing impairment. If early intervention could be made to reverse these risk factors in LMICs, among others, this could help to lower individuals’ risk of dementia.

Obviously, this is a multifaceted issue, as one cannot just flip a switch and make this happen overnight. Research into the risk factors that are most predictive of dementia in LMICs is continuing, and once clear links have been made, further steps can be taken. However, the desperate need for funding is evident, as large public health campaigns are expensive and hard to implement, especially in rural areas that may not have readily available access to the internet. Also, healthcare funding is another issue, as there needs to be enough resources to allow positive interventions to be made in people with modifiable dementia risk factors, so that the process of identifying the dementia risk factors present in the general population is worthwhile.

So, although there are clearly barriers to easing the dementia burden in LMICs, continued research will undoubtedly bring more attention to the issue. Hopefully in the future, the stigma surrounding dementia worldwide will decrease, prompting more funding to this ever-expanding field, and dementia prevention strategies will become more viable to be put into practice in many LMICs.

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