About dementia

Dementia is one of the most urgent health challenges facing the world today and is not solvable by any one country, organisation or individual alone.


What is dementia

The term “dementia” describes a set of symptoms that include loss of memory, mood changes and problems with communicating and reasoning. These symptoms occur when the brain is damaged by certain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease or a series of small strokes. Around 60 per cent of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common type of dementia; around 20 per cent have vascular dementia, which results from problems with the blood supply to the brain; and many people have a mixture of the two.

Dementia is a progressive condition, so symptoms become more severe over time. This means that people with dementia and their care partners have to cope with a reduced capacity to make decisions about major life events and day-to-day situations, as well as a range of other changes.

A global health challenge

Dementia is one of the most urgent health challenges facing the world today and is not solvable by any one country, organisation or individual alone. Prevalence rates are increasing globally, with populations ageing worldwide, and at a significant rate, including in low to middle income countries, where around 60% of all people with dementia live. The estimated increase in dementia prevalence in over 60 year olds is greatest in Africa and East Asia, i.e. in those countries that are least able to cope.  

Dementia currently
affects more than

47 million

people worldwide

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that dementia currently affects more than 47 million people worldwide, a figure that is expected to rise to 75.6 million by 2030 and 135 million in 2050, as the global population ages.

The worldwide costs
of dementia are

$818 billion

and it will become a trillion-dollar
disease by 2018

Alzheimer’s Disease International estimates that the existing worldwide costs of dementia are US $818 billion and that it will become a trillion-dollar disease by 2018 - equivalent to the world’s 18th largest economy. This is unsustainable.

All societies must be encouraged to support people who are at risk of dementia, those who are living with the disease and their care partners; and to make sure that every effort is made to combat dementia, including through the development of new, effective treatments.

"Dementia is undoubtedly the biggest health and care challenge facing the world today."

WDC Chair, Dr. Yves Joanette, PhD, FCAHS

However, while it is expected that research into new treatments will start to bear fruit over the next few years, global economies are operating in a challenging financial environment and global health and care systems are struggling to respond. As a result, and as our Chair, Yves Joanette puts it: “dementia is undoubtedly the biggest health and care challenge facing the world today."

Key challenges in tackling Worldwide Dementia

There are five key dementia challenges, which WDC is tackling
through the work of our global teams:
  • Finance

    Research plays an important role in reducing the societal and health burden of disease, but dementia research has been historically under-funded. Far less is spent on public sector dementia research than on other major diseases globally, including by prevalent cases and as a percentage of different countries’ health and social care expenditure.  

    To see what WDC is doing to address the financial issues of dementia, please visit

  • Integrated Drug Development

    The past decade has seen very little in the way of successful progress in dementia drug development and the disease has suffered from a lack of funding in innovation, research and development. Part of the problem is the high failure rate of candidate drugs, predominantly in the early stages of development, which is symptomatic of the gaps in knowledge around the disease’s biology. There is also a need for better understanding of the regulatory challenges the disease presents. All of these issues lead to slow and inefficient translation of research into successful clinical results that can pave the way to finding a cure for dementia.

    To see what WDC is doing to address issues with dementia drug development, please visit

  • Research, Open Science and Big Data

    There has been too little success to date in finding a cure or a disease-modifying treatment for dementia: only three new drugs have entered the market in the past fifteen years. Furthermore, there still isn’t a shared understanding of dementia pathology, which critically impedes efforts to find effective treatments and hinders approaches to risk reduction, diagnosis and care.

    The level of complexity of dementia is so high that no single country has the expertise or resources to address all these issues alone. There needs to be more global collaboration in research and more extensive data sharing if progress in developing effective drugs for dementia is going to be made.

    To find out what WDC is doing to address the research, open science and big data related issues of dementia, please visit

  • Care

    Forty-four million people - and rising - currently live with dementia and the quality of care they receive varies greatly both within and between countries. Improving dementia care and support remains a top priority for care providers and those affected by the disease, especially while no cure or disease-modifying therapy is available.  

    To see what WDC is doing to address the care issues of dementia, please visit

  • Risk Reduction

    Not enough is currently being done by global governments to actively encourage people to reduce their risk of dementia, including by living more active lives. There needs to be a substantial investment in research and awareness programmes to better understand the risk factors that contribute to the disease’s development and to alert the public to the actions they can take to reduce their risk of dementia.

    To see what WDC is doing to reduce the risk of dementia, please visit

For more information about dementia, please visit the Alzheimer's Disease International website.