December 17, 2005
Total World Dementia Seen Tripling By 2040

A group of researchers from Britain, Australia, Brazil, the United States, China, Japan, and Sweden has published a report in the British medical journal The Lancet arguing that barring advances in treatment the number of people in the world suffering dementia due to aging will more than triple by the year 2040. (requires free registration)

We have generated expert consensus estimates of age-specific dementia prevalence for different world regions using the Delphi technique. We estimate that 24 million people have dementia today and that this amount will double every 20 years to 42 million by 2020 and 81 million by 2040, assuming no changes in mortality, and no effective prevention strategies or curative treatments. Of those with dementia, 60% live in developing countries, with this number rising to 71% by 2040. The rate of increase in numbers of people with dementia is predicted to be three to four times higher in developing areas than in developed regions.

Obviously, lots of advances in medical treatments will occur in the interim. Some advances will increase longevity by keeping old bodies alive longer. Those sorts of advances will increase the number of people with longevity by allowing more people to live to an age where their brains fail. On the other hand, medical advances that prevent Alzheimer's Disease and other causes of dementia will surely be developed as well.

Prevention of brain aging is much harder than rejuvenation of the rest of the body. The reason for this is simple: We will develop ways to grow and build replacement parts for most of the body. But our brains hold our identities. We can't get a brain replaced with a younger brain without replacing ourselves with a different person. Now, maybe some day nanotechnological methods will allow us to replicate our memories in another brain and that new brain will think it is us. Though I would not view a copy of me as being me. But given such advanced technologies why not instead apply those nano-devices to instead fully repair the brain we already have?

The costs of millions of demented people are enormous. People with early onset Alzheimers are lost from the workforce. Regardless of age of onset the costs of caring for each patient are high because the patients gradually lose the ability to care for themselves. Both families and governments shoulder large portions of the costs. The burden per working person is rising as the average age of populations rise. Taxes will go up in all the developed countries in the next decade and levels of service will simultaneously be cut in order to pay for the growing population of old folks.

These costs of caring for the demented and of old people suffering from other maladies are a strong argument for a huge increase of government funding for research to develop rejuvenation therapies (what Aubrey de Grey calls Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence or SENS). Once developed such therapies will become far cheaper to administer than the costs of caring for an aging population. People who are too worn out to work will, once rejuvenated, be able to return to work. Many will once again become net payers of taxes rather than net recipients of taxes paid by younger workers.

Brain rejuvenation combined with technologies to boost cognitive function will cause an enormous increase in average human productivity. The increases in human productivity will pay back the costs of medical research many times over.

We are going to pay for the aging population one way or another. I prefer to pay for it by solving the underlying problem: reverse aging. That way of paying for it requires larger government expenditures in the short to medium run but will avoid much larger government expenditures in the long run while simultaneously allowing us to become young again.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 December 17 12:52 PM  Aging Population Problems

PacRim Jim said at December 17, 2005 9:27 PM:

I was going to make an important comment about dementia, but I forgot.... Where am I? What year is it?

Patrick Bateman said at December 18, 2005 7:25 AM:

This is ridiculous, don't you think that when this technology becomes available, that it will be controlled by the leading authorities, at the time. Anybody in power will seize this opportunity for self-preservation and keep him or herself alive, while the poor with no resources will be turned into slaves, working the natural lives to support those who won't die. We have to face the truth, which is this; our world cannot support an exponential increase in a dying population let alone one that has found a way to delay death. With the world thrown into the grips of Hunger, and disease because the resources are not there to provide basic necessities, to those who cannot provide for themselves. I find it ludicrous that we as a society in America look towards these issues, as somebody else’s problems. I assure you, that if we can preserve our stay here, that the world’s problems will become just that. The world, must learn to co exist in some kind of equilibrium, or we all suffer. No one gets this point, because we can look, but 25+ years down the road.

Bob Badour said at December 18, 2005 7:36 AM:


I fail to share your gloomy outlook regarding these technologies. By your argument, the elites would have ended death by bacterial infection for themselves while denying the rest of the world antibiotics. Ditto polio vaccination. Ditto smallpox.

The sort of thing you predict only seems to happen these days in North Korea and a handful of similar places.

Jake to the Bone said at December 18, 2005 8:07 PM:

It is funny seeing a few of these "panic! The future is coming!" reports from serious journals. The IEA released its Energy Outlook 2030 report and argues it cant see any significant technological improvements over the next *25 years*. Did they check what has happened since 1980? and since technology improvements are accelerating, it is more like arguing we have had technological gain from 1920 to 1980, but not much from 2005 to 2030.

Alzheimer's disease experts have stated we could have major progress by just 2010. If only a partial cure by then, there is every indication that all forms of dimentia would be cured within the next 15 years.

It is simply alarmist tripe for a journal article to raise such unfounded fears by projecting 35 years into the future so that they can get "if no change, look at the horrible figures" results.

If the authors carried out a careful anaylysis of what the dementia population might be like with little progress by 2015, it would be worthy of publication.

inane said at December 26, 2005 10:17 AM:

The thing about pro-mortalist, "let's keep aging around" arguments is that they are horribly hypocritical.
If curing aging is such a bad thing, then we shouldn't cure cancer, cardiovascular disease, or anything else that could possibly lead to an increase in the world population. Neither should we develop any novel medical treatments, because they could be sequestered by the elite. In fact, why don't we just all refuse any medical treatment when we get sick? I'm sure Leon Kass would approve.

Population growth is indeed a cause for concern, but the focus should be on reducing birth rates, not increasing death rates. Let's just put it this way: I sure as heck want to be around and healthy as long as possible. Don't you?

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