Brain disorders account for >15 percent of global health loss

Elvira Manzano
20 Sep 2023
Brain disorders account for >15 percent of global health loss

Brain disorders – comprising mental illness, neurologic conditions, and stroke – account for over 15 percent of global health loss (how much healthy life is lost due to early death, illness, or ability) in the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study presented at EAN 2023.

That exceeds the global health loss associated with cancer and cardiovascular disease.

“The burden is expected to increase as people age,” warned Dr Shayla Smith, MPH, an epidemiologist at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, US. “The COVID-19 pandemic has also influenced the prevalence of mental disorders, as people were forced to isolate and social networks broke down.”

Data gathered from 200,000 IHME sources estimate the number of individuals aged ≥65 years to increase by 350 percent by 2100. Brain health and brain-related conditions emerged as one of the more pressing challenges of the 21st century.

In Europe, healthcare spending on Alzheimer’s disease will increase by 226 percent between 2015 and 2040, according to data from IHME.

The GBD study sought to systematically quantify health loss over time, stratified by country, region, age, and sex, using the disability-adjusted life years (DALYs). [EAN 2023, abstract EPO-236]

Results showed that in 2021, brain conditions were >15 percent of global health loss at 406 million DALYs, higher than for cardiovascular disease at 402 million DALYs. More than 206 million DALYs were associated with cancer.

This health loss is associated with a $1.22 trillion loss in income for people living with health disorders worldwide and accounts for $1.14 trillion in direct healthcare costs, said co-investigator Xaviera Steele, who is also from IHME.

Reversing health loss

Since 1990, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease increased by 178 percent whereas stroke increased by 98 percent.

The burden of mental disorders, neurologic conditions, and stroke is expected to increase dramatically between now and 2050, said Smith, who noted that health loss linked to brain conditions is higher in younger patients.

Their goal at IHME is to see an improved prevention and treatment landscape for other brain conditions and reverse the growing health loss. “This will create new challenges for health systems, employers, patients, and families,” she said.

How to maintain brain health

“Policy action will be needed to help families, who will struggle to provide high-quality care for their loved ones with dementia at a reasonable cost,” added Steele during a press conference.

“More research has to be done on what is the most effective way to maintain brain health, although literature suggests a healthy brain can be achieved through a healthy lifestyle such as managing high blood pressure and diabetes, limiting alcohol intake, stopping smoking, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and staying physically and mentally active,” said Smith.

Session chair Dr Jurgita Valaikiene from the Vilnius University Faculty of Medicine in Vilnius, Lithuania said despite efforts to apply the best treatment to prevent stroke, the numbers keep increasing. She explained that increasing age is not directly related to stenosis. “We can have healthier vessels in an elderly patient and unhealthy vessels with stenosis in someone aged 30 or 40 years. This largely depends on risk factors.”

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