Dementia Looms Large in Latin America

A shift away from family-based care will lead to skyrocketing demand for public-private and other new services.

A man plays guitar, pictured here, at a memory workshop in Peru, an example of the region gearing up for a surge in dementia and establishing new standards for mental health and healthcare delivery.
Latin America is gearing up for a surge in dementia and establishing new standards for mental health and healthcare delivery. Photo from Alzheimers Disease International

In the coming decades, Latin America and the Caribbean expect to see a surge in demand for paid dementia care services. Governments in Costa Rica, Mexico and Argentina are among those preparing national dementia plans to expand dementia services.

A report released by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) predicts that the incidence in the Americas of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease will double every 20 years. In 2013, over 35 million people worldwide were living with dementia. The report says that the Americas — specifically Latin America — “is a region that will be most impacted by the shift,” with the number of cases rising from 7.8 million people to over 27 million by 2050. Alzheimer’s disease comprises 60-70 percent of all dementia cases.

The increase is expected to be particularly pronounced in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean with rapidly aging populations. The numbers of people with dementia are expected to rise 210 percent in the Southern Cone (Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) and 445 percent in the Andean Area (Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela).

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the World Health Organization’s agency for the Americas, issued a Regional Plan of Action on Dementia in response to the anticipated need. According to a 2015 news release by ADI, PAHO is helping guide member countries to create national plans outlining strategies that prioritize dementia as a public health concern, and that calls for developing the needed social and health programs to cope with the growing burden.

According to the report, Costa Rica and Mexico have already developed national dementia plans that increase access to services, and the Argentinian government is working with PAMI, the Argentinian Ministry of Health’s public insurance program, to extend public care to those with dementia.

Low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) will bear more of the brunt of the projected rise in dementia than their upper-income neighbors. According to the ADI report, 58 percent of all people currently with dementia live in LMICs. This number is expected to rise to 71 percent by 2050.

Care in LMICs is expected to get much more expensive, as these countries see a drastic shift away from informal family care to care homes and paid home caretakers. Contributing to the shift are declining fertility, increasing migration and the increasing workforce participation of women, especially in LMIC countries. Informal care currently accounts for almost half of all dementia care costs in low- and middle-income Latin American countries. Wealthier countries in the region, in contrast, see costs of care divided almost evenly between informal care, direct medical care and social care.

New public-private partnerships are expected to take up some of the slack from the shift away from family care.


— Ali Greatsinger

Ali Greatsinger is the senior editor at GHCi.


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