Prevalence and Projections of Dementia in Ireland, 2011 - 2046

Title: Prevalence and Projections of Dementia in Ireland, 2011 - 2046

Research team: Prof. Suzanne Cahill and Dr. Maria Pierce, Trinity College Dublin and Prof. Eamon O'Shea, NUI Galway. 

Results: Prevalence and Projections of Dementia in Ireland, 2011 - 2046, published December 2014.

Context

This report provides detailed estimates of the likely growth in the number of people with dementia over the next 20 to 30 years in Ireland. Dementia is closely associated with age - the older people get, the more likely they are to develop dementia and increasing age remains the single strongest risk factor for dementia. We know that the population of Ireland is ageing and so we are likely to have more people with dementia who will need support and services in the future. How many people will have dementia? Where will they be living? This report provides estimates by county and by age group so that we can be ready as a country and as local communities and plan to have appropriate supports and services in place. The data in this report informed the development of the National Dementia Strategy which is due to be published shortly.

Key findings

The increase in the number of people with dementia in the coming years will be significant and could be as high as 132,000 people by 2041, almost three times the current estimate of 47,000 in 2011. This increase undoubtedly presents a challenge to policy-makers and service planners but it also presents an opportunity to consider the services we currently provide for people with dementia and the adjustments that we will have to make to meet increased need in the future.

These estimates are based on Census data and population forecasts prepared by the Central Statistics Office. The population forecasts are used by all state agencies to plan services into the future. How many schools will we need? Where should we build our roads? It makes sense for the same numbers to be used in planning our health services into the future. The dementia prevalence rates applied to the Census data and population forecasts are based on combined data from several studies undertaken across Europe, given the fact that we do not have specific prevalence data for Ireland. Combining data from many countries allows the breakdown of prevalence by gender and age groups which is much more useful than one single prevalence figure.

Because they are estimates, we cannot know for sure how accurate these figures are, with some very recent studies suggesting that international dementia prevalence rates might be modestly lower now than previously thought.  But even if existing prevalence rates are an overestimate, the number of people with dementia in Ireland is still likely to at least double over the next thirty years. As estimates, the numbers should be treated with caution as a planning tool and neither reported sensationally nor ignored. But, given demographic ageing in Ireland, all the evidence points to a significant increase in the number of people with dementia in the coming decades. We must also remember that behind these figures exist the human faces of all those living with this illness, their family members and friends.