Dementia | The Next Global Contagion
Lurking ominously like a Nile crocodile just beneath of the surface of the recent world health crisis that has cost millions of human lives and billions in economic damage, is the inexorable and relentless aging of the world’s population that is bringing its associated socio-economic problems to grossly unprepared governments.
Many open-source reports and articles discuss in depth the world’s aging population, particularly in the developed world, and its economic impacts with respect to medical costs, senior living unaffordability and lower tax revenue to support the elderly.
The other closely intertwined topic is the growing dementia population often associated to Japan whose present-day data and societal struggles are a harbinger for a rapidly growing dementia population in China, Europe and the US.
However what is rarely discussed is the convergence of aging populations with longer lifespans and the greater percentage and rate at which citizens are getting dementia at a younger age including early on-set dementia.
The Snail, The Frog, The Rhino and the Canary
Unlike the recent pandemic or similar epidemic/pandemic contagion which emerges and spreads rapidly, this demographic trend has been moving at a snail’s pace for decades like the proverbial languid frog relaxing in a pot of slowly boiling water. What we need is the screeching canary in the coal mine.
NGOs and governments have produced studies on these trends for decades but their reluctance to implement policies to mitigate the risks represents is the proverbial rhino in the room that no one wants to discuss. Instead other crisis (perceived or real) have been conveniently given higher priority.
The recent pandemic is the perfect alibi to put the aging population/dementia issue on the backburner because of the resource-draining pandemic and the political instability in effectively dealing with future public policy health issues. Navigating the political rubble is the natural result of the socio-economic rubble.
Global Demographic Trends
In November 2022 according to the UN Population Division the world reached an estimated population of 8 billion. The following chart entitled World Population Reaches 8 Billion provided by the aforementioned organization indicates world population growth which has slowed dramatically over the past several decades and is forecast to decline.
With respect to the demographic aging trends, the following chart entitled Where the Aging Population Problem is Greatest provided by the Population Reference Bureau, presents a comparative analysis of the status of the senior citizen and youth populations.
Finally an “inconvenient” statistic indicates the following demographic trend for those over 60 years old:
Globally there were 610 million in 2000, 10% of the world’s population. This figure grew to 1.1 billion in 2020 or 14% of the world’s population. The projection is 2.1 billion in 2050, 22% of the world’s population.
Furthermore, global life expectancy has increased 16 years – currently 72 years - and infant mortality has dropped 70%.
In sum the world’s population will decline but the elderly population will increase dramatically.
The following dynamic chart underscoring this trend is entitled Living Longer provided by UN World Population Prospects. The dynamic global lifespan trend movement can be accessed through the above link.
Complicity Meets Plausible Deniability
Medical science and Big Pharma have aggressively marketed the concept that, through their never-ending developmental breakthroughs, that the world citizenry can have their cake and eat it too resulting in a longer and higher quality of life. Big Pharma is invested heavily in drug development that combat dementia and obesity. This approach gives the impression that obesity and dementia are inevitable rather than preventable.
Wonder drugs and technology historically fall far short of the promises made by scientific and government authorities – which are aimed at targeting the symptoms rather than the causes. It’s like deciding not to fix the car brakes and instead on improving trauma care.
Besides, targeting the causes of dementia goes against Big Pharma’s economic interests as well as that of their associates such as Big Agriculture and the medical profession whose [pun intended] knee-jerk reaction to a patient’s poor lab results is often to give more prescriptions.
The ever-increasing obesity (even being merely overweight), sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition through increasingly processed foods accelerate any number of cognitive issues and trigger a cluster of other associated health problems requiring home or professional care at a younger age. This trend of earlier on-set dementia, soon to become an epidemic and then a contagion, is that it deleteriously impacts everyone and everything.
Finally we still won’t know the long-term effects of “long Covid” problems that may debilitate and push more people out of the workforce. Such problems as “brain fog” and physical disabilities have unknown long-term impacts.
Professional Productivity Degradation
Economically this results in a worker shortage for those who decide to leave the workplace to take care of family members because they can’t afford the present-day and rising costs of assisted living and nursing homes.
The dark under-reported and anecdotal trends are that more people are suffering from cognitive problems earlier in life and forcing formerly productive workers to leave the workplace far earlier than they had planned.
More seriously this impacts critical professions requiring certain levels of skill for safety and security namely medical professionals, engineers, equipment operators, pilots and truck drivers covering a wide swath of important professions.
Although they may be cognitively impaired to the point of being unable to perform high skill jobs, they’ll have to settle for considerably lower-risk and low-paying jobs requiring little skill not because of a collapsing economy rather due to cognitive degradation.
Demographic Pincer Movement
Adding fuel to a severe skilled labor shortage are two powerful disturbing trends representing a demographic pincer movement in severely reducing skilled labor:
· Firstly, America’s poor education system, the multi-generation trend of “dumbing down”, and prohibitive cost of higher education are considerably reducing young people from acquiring the knowledge to train for skilled work. This is confirmed through the dramatic drop in learning scores exacerbated by the pandemic lockdown.
· Secondly is the wave of retirement by the Baby Boomer generation whose youngest members of this demographic were born in 1964 and will be retiring in 2029 (assuming age 65) if not already.
For this reason many industries are lowering their standards to accept workers, most notably the US military that is now accepting recruits with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) without a waiver.
With a far larger percentage of young people on medication for mental health issues, the challenge of filling skilled positions particularly with respect to safety & security becomes difficult.
The following chart entitled The Threat of Declining Working Age Populations provided by the OECD confirms the rapidly growing gap between working age citizenry and retirees/old age cannot cover the gap. One may not qualify for retirement but their cognitive abilities to be productive at work or forced to leave the workforce early and retire represents an enormous economic burden.
World Tour of Growing Dementia
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are 55 million people worldwide with dementia with projections to 78 million by 2030 and 139 million by 2050 which correlates to an aging population.
Present-day Europe, the Old World getting older, has one of the world’s oldest demographics, along with long lifespans is on the road to face crisis. The following chart entitled Europe is Facing a Dementia Problem provided by the Organization for Economic and Co-Operation and Development (OECD) indicates by country.
Japan | Land of the “Sun Downing”?
“Sun Downing” refers to when an elderly person with mild dementia behaves normally during the day but suffers from temporary confusion and disorientation late in the day, often at sunset.
The mainstream media has reported on Japan’s aging population and socio-economic consequences because it’s one of the most rapidly aging and oldest population in the world.
Here’s a quick reference list of Japan’s dementia road to perdition exacerbated by their socio-political reluctance to attract young immigrants in the workforce:
· 28% of the Japanese population is 65 years or older.
· 2.4 million Japanese are over 90 years old
· There are 70,000 Japanese centenarians
· Japan’s 5 million citizens (4% of population) have dementia, the highest percentage globally.
· Japan has already established dementia villages and even robots to entertain the aged.
· Plunging replacement figures (2.1 babies required for population replenishment), aging population and longer lifespans.
· Several years ago more adult diapers were sold than baby diapers.
China | Kowtowing Closely Behind Japan
China is about 10 years behind with respect to matching Japan’s level of a demographic/dementia crisis. At a lecture presentation entitled “China’s Aging Population Challenges & Strategies”, 16 December 2019 at Columbia University, School of Public Health, the following data on China’s demographic crisis was presented:
Aging costs to GDP today are 9.5% projected to increase to 21.3% in 2035 and 23.65% in 2040 and then 28.24% in 2050, the equivalent of EU member states.
From 1949 to 2018 the life expectancy increased from 35 to 77 with averages in the 80s in major cities. There are more than 40 million senior citizens who are totally or partially disabled.
· Men retire at 60
· Female factory workers retire at 50
· Female public sector and white-collar workers retire at 55
With longer lifespans and the aforementioned retirement ages, China will run into a serious economic crunch caring for the elderly as follows:
With respect to health care China averages 2.5 nurses per 1,000 citizens which is half the world average despite having the world’s second largest economy.
Proportion of medical expenses for the elderly in GDP
2020 – 2.34%
2030 – 3.86%
2050 – 6.38%
By 2030 older adults will bear 67% of the total disease burden.
Finally the unspeakable mental health issue of the elderly fending for themselves without family and possibly little state aid and facilities to care for them in this chart (expressed in millions):
Year Elderly without spouse Elderly with only one living child Elderly without living children
2018 50.83 55.56 10
2035 106 142 24
2050 154 160 60
The aforementioned convergence of demographic and economic trends is already having an impact on the quality of life, notably and ironically in the world’s wealthiest countries. More ominously the impacts of these trends will inevitably accelerate before the end of the decade compelling governments to create, by “default or design”, a new socio-political paradigm based on draconian economic and security policies.
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The Cerulean Council is a NYC-based think-tank that provides prescient, beyond-the-horizon, contrarian perspectives and risk assessments on geopolitical dynamics and global urban security.