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Dementia and other neurological diseases are affecting more and more people, earlier and earlier in their life, according to new research. The rapid rise cannot be attributed to longer lifespans, and is almost definitely as a result of environmental changes/pollution and societal/lifestyle changes, according to the researchers.


The new research has found “that the sharp rise of dementia and other neurological deaths in people under 74 cannot be put down to the fact that we are living longer. The rise is because a higher proportion of old people are being affected by such conditions — and what is really alarming, it is starting earlier and affecting people under 55 years.”

The rise seems to be currently mostly concentrated in the Western countries. Out of the ten largest of the Western countries the US has had the steepest increase in all neurological deaths — men up 66% and women 92% between 1979-2010. The UK was in 4th — men up 32% and women 48%. With regards ti the total numbers of deaths, those are as of now relatively low — in the UK, “it was 4,500 and now 6,500, in the USA it was 14,500 now more than 28,500 deaths.”

Professor Pritchard of Bournemouth University says: “These statistics are about real people and families, and we need to recognise that there is an ‘epidemic’ that clearly is influenced by environmental and societal changes.”

Tessa Gutteridge, Director YoungDementia UK states that it needs to become public knowledge that dementia is increasingly affecting people from an earlier age: “The lives of an increasing number of families struggling with working-age dementia are made so much more challenging by services which fail to keep pace with their needs and a society which believes dementia to be an illness of old age.”

But as the research shows, there is now a significant trend towards the development of dementia at an earlier and earlier age — a ‘hidden epidemic’ in adults (under 74) in Western countries, especially the UK.

“Total neurological deaths in both men and women rose significantly in 16 of the countries covered by the research, which is in sharp contrast to the major reductions in deaths from all other causes. Over the period the UK has the third biggest neurological increase, up 32% in men and 48% in women, whilst women’s neurological deaths rose faster than men’s in most countries.”

Lead researcher Professor Colin Pritchard said, “These rises in neurological deaths, with the earlier onset of the dementias, are devastating for families and pose a considerable public health problem. It is NOT that we have more old people but rather more old people have more brain disease than ever before, including Alzheimer’s. For example there are two new British charities, The Young Parkinson’s Society and Young Dementia UK, which are a grass-roots response to these rises. The need for such charities would have been inconceivable a little more than 30 years ago.”

With regards to what is causing these increases, he stated: “This has to be speculative but it cannot be genetic because the period is too short. Whilst there will be some influence of more elderly people, it does not account for the earlier onset; the differences between countries nor the fact that more women have been affected, as their lives have changed more than men’s over the period, all indicates multiple environmental factors. Considering the changes over the last 30 years — the explosion in electronic devices, rises in background non-ionising radiation- PC’s, micro waves, TV’s, mobile phones; road and air transport up four-fold increasing background petro-chemical pollution; chemical additives to food etc. There is no one factor rather the likely interaction between all these environmental triggers, reflecting changes in other conditions. For example, whilst cancer deaths are down substantially, cancer incidence continues to rise; levels of asthma are un-precedented; the fall in male sperm counts — the rise of auto-immune diseases — all point to life-style and environmental influences. These `statistics’ are about real people and families, and we need to recognise that there is an `epidemic’ that clearly is influenced by environmental and societal changes.”

The new findings were published in the journal Public Health.

Source: Bournemouth University

Image Credit: Manhattan Under Pollution via Flickr CC

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