Deaths due to Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias have jumped more than threefold worldwide since 1990, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Published December 13 in the Lancet, the study is the first in more than two decades to examine the incidence of major diseases, injuries, and health risk factors around the globe. It finds that while fewer children perish every year than 20 years ago, adults are now suffering more from non-infectious diseases such as cancer and heart disease. In addition, dementia is becoming more common as more people reach old age.

“Due to rapid rises in the numbers of older people worldwide, … deaths attributable to dementia are on the rise,” wrote Martin Prince, King's College London, in an e-mail to Alzforum. Some regions are likely to be hit harder than others, he added. “Rates of increase are likely to be sharpest in middle income countries where population aging is currently happening most rapidly.”

Why else might dementia rates be climbing? Correct diagnosis could be key, said Hugh Hendrie, Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis. As more and more people reach the age of 65 in developing countries, awareness of dementia has grown and the condition has worked its way up physicians' priority lists, he told Alzforum. “With demographic changes, these countries are beginning to recognize that dementia is a big problem,” Hendrie said. “Think of the staggering burden on the healthcare systems in developing countries that do not have adequate resources.” In addition, upsurges of diseases such as diabetes and hypertension could exacerbate the dementia risk.

Last published in 1990, the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBDS) outlines disease distribution by age, sex, and region. It aims to raise awareness about leading diseases and help countries outline their national health priorities. In total, the report includes seven papers that examine 235 causes of death and 67 risk factors—everything from neonatal issues and nutrition to infectious diseases and aging disorders. The entire report took five years to complete and was conducted by 486 researchers from 302 institutions around the globe. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle, served as coordinator, working with six other core institutions: Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland; the University of Queensland, Australia; Imperial College London; the University of Tokyo; and the World Health Organization. While 20 years separated the first and second of these studies, a new design allows the GBDS to be updated more frequently in the future.—Gwyneth Dickey Zakaib


  1. The largest contributor to dementia's expansion is that, worldwide, people are living longer. When you have four times the number of people in the older age groups (projected for the middle of the century), you automatically will have four times the number of people with dementia unless we find something to stem the tide. Early diagnosis promotes the expansion somewhat, but not as much as the shifting population age structure. We no longer have a pyramid structure to the population, with fewer older adults relative to younger, but more of a rectangle with a burgeoning at the older ages.

    It has been shown that if we could find something to delay AD dementia, we would have fewer cases. For example, even a delay of two years on average would reduce the U.S. burden of dementia by at least a couple of million people.

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External Citations

  1. Global Burden of Disease Study 2010

Further Reading


  1. . The macroeconomics of dementia-will the world economy get Alzheimer's disease?. Arch Med Res. 2012 Nov;43(8):705-9. PubMed.
  2. . Contribution of chronic diseases to disability in elderly people in countries with low and middle incomes: a 10/66 Dementia Research Group population-based survey. Lancet. 2009 Nov 28;374(9704):1821-30. PubMed.
  3. . Tobacco use and dementia: evidence from the 1066 dementia population-based surveys in Latin America, China and India. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2011 Feb 9; PubMed.

Primary Papers

  1. . Common values in assessing health outcomes from disease and injury: disability weights measurement study for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2012 Dec 15;380(9859):2129-43. PubMed.
  2. . Age-specific and sex-specific mortality in 187 countries, 1970-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2013 Dec 15;380(9859):2071-94. PubMed.
  3. . Global and regional mortality from 235 causes of death for 20 age groups in 1990 and 2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2012 Dec 15;380(9859):2095-128. PubMed.
  4. . Healthy life expectancy for 187 countries, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2013 Dec 15;380(9859):2144-62. PubMed.
  5. . Years lived with disability (YLDs) for 1160 sequelae of 289 diseases and injuries 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2013 Dec 15;380(9859):2163-96. PubMed.
  6. . Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) for 291 diseases and injuries in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2013 Dec 15;380(9859):2197-223. PubMed.
  7. . A comparative risk assessment of burden of disease and injury attributable to 67 risk factors and risk factor clusters in 21 regions, 1990-2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. Lancet. 2013 Dec 15;380(9859):2224-60. PubMed.