The Cost of Dementia: $156 Billion and Rising

Dementia cost the world $156 billion in 2003, say Swedish researchers.

The sum could grow larger as more people live longer, say Bengt Winblad, MD, and colleagues. Their estimate covers dementia's direct costs, based on nearly 28 million people with dementia worldwide.

Most of the spending (92 percent) occurred in countries with advanced economies. However, those nations account for less than four out of 10 dementia cases, say the researchers.

The most common form of dementia among older people is Alzheimer's disease. It's not a normal part of aging, but it's most often seen with advanced age.

Read WebMD's "Alzheimer's Disease:The Basics"

Care Methods Vary

The 2003 global tab for dementia may not be precise. The actual number could be anywhere from $129-$156 billion, say the researchers. They examined figures on the prevalence of dementia from different regions and also examined cost-of-illness studies from key countries.

"Dementia care is a mix of formal and informal care giving, and this mix is not uniform throughout the world," says Winblad, in a news release. "Even among the advanced economies, there is a great range in how dementia care is provided, due to differences in family patterns, traditions, economic strength, care organization, and financing."

"Nevertheless, it is obvious that the worldwide costs are substantial," says Winblad. He is a professor of geriatric medicine and chief physician at Sweden's Karolinska University Hospital and Karolinska Institute.

Read WebMD's "Drug May Delay Onset of Alzheimer'"

Dementia Increase Predicted

As more people live longer, the number of people with dementia is predicted to grow. For instance, an estimated 4.5 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimer's disease, says the Alzheimer's Association.

That's more than twice as many as in 1980. But it's only a fraction of the 11.3 million to 16 million Alzheimer's cases the association predicts for the U.S. by the year 2050.

"The expected increase of elderly people, especially the anticipated rapid increase in developing countries, presents a great challenge for social and health care systems," says Winblad.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Charlotte E. Grayson MD

SOURCES: Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia, Washington, June 18-21, 2005. WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise, "Alzheimer's Disease -- Topic Overview." News release, Alzheimer's Association. Alzheimer's Association, "Statistics About Alzheimer's Disease."