Number of dementia cases could be 42% higher than previously estimated by 2040

Oct. 30, 2023
New study.

Up to 1.7 million people could be living with dementia in England and Wales by 2040 – over 40% more than previously forecast – finds a new UCL-led study. 

Previous studies, based on data up to 2010, showed that dementia incidence had declined in high-income countries. However, the new research, published in The Lancet Public Health, indicates that dementia incidence started to increase in England and Wales after 2008. 

Based on this estimated upward incidence trend, researchers project that the number of people with dementia in England and Wales may be significantly higher than expected in the future. 

According to previous research in England and Wales, the number of people living with dementia was previously predicted to increase by 57% from 0.77 million in 2016 to 1.2 million in 2040. 

However, the new research, funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, suggests that this figure could be as high as 1.7 million. 

Researchers examined nine waves of data from people over the age of 50 and living in private households in England between 2002 and 2019, from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). 

They found that the number of people with dementia decreased by 28.8% between 2002 and 2008. However, it increased again by 25.2% between 2008 and 2016. 

A similar non-linear pattern was observed across subgroups according to age, sex, and educational attainment. 

Most notably, researchers found that disparities in the rate of dementia incidence was increasing between education groups, as there was both a slower decline in 2002-2008 and a faster increase after 2008 in participants with lower educational attainment. 

If the incidence rate increases as fast as what was observed between 2008 to 2016 (a 2.8% increase per year) researchers predict that the number of people with dementia in England and Wales is set to increase to 1.7 million by 2040 – approximately twice the number in 2023. This compares to an estimate of one million people if dementia rates had continued to decline as previously reported. 

Although an increase in dementia cases has often been attributed to an ageing population, the researchers also found that the rate of dementia onset within older age groups is also increasing. 

UCL release on Newswise