The Burden of Dementia: A Global Challenge

the burden of dementia

Key Findings

  • As of 2019, more than 55 million people have dementia worldwide, over 60% of whom live in low-and middle-income countries. 
  • Every year, there are nearly 10 million new cases.
  • The global economic burden of dementia is over $1.3 trillion per year
  • Chronic lung diseases like COPD correlate with an increased risk of dementia
  • 60-77% of people with COPD have some cognitive impairment
  • Long-term studies confirm poor lung function links to poorer cognition
  • Strengthening respiratory muscles through training may help slow cognitive decline
  • Studies show respiratory muscle training improves mental flexibility, memory, and cognition more than other exercises


Dementia is a rising international healthcare concern, with nearly 40 million individuals worldwide currently affected, and this number is set to double in the next two decades. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, plagues a significant portion of the elderly population. Astonishingly, dementia surpasses heart disease and cancer as the most expensive disease globally, imposing a staggering economic burden of $1.3 trillion annually. 

This immense cost is primarily driven by the continuous social care required by affected individuals, encompassing reimbursed healthcare services and the substantial contributions of family members and community members. While effective drugs for dementia remain elusive, current disease management focuses on mitigating symptoms and improving patients’ lifestyles and care.


Prevention: The Key to Addressing Dementia

Without a cure for dementia, prevention and the slowdown of disease progression have gained considerable attention. Several risk factors for developing dementia exist, some of which can be influenced by individual choices. A notable guideline suggests that “what is good for the heart is good for the head,” emphasizing the importance of smoking cessation, moderate alcohol consumption, a healthy lifestyle, and regular physical activity in reducing the risk of dementia. 

These lifestyle choices not only affect dementia risk but also mitigate the risk of related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and obesity.


Unveiling a Novel Connection: Lungs, Lung Disease, and Dementia Prevention

Recent research has unveiled a fascinating link between lung health, lung diseases, and the development of dementia. This revelation sheds new light on potential preventive measures for cognitive decline. Recognizing cognitive impairment as a critical extrapulmonary factor in lung diseases like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) underscores the need for a comprehensive strategy addressing high-risk comorbidities, including dementia.


Chronic Lung Disease and the Onset of Dementia

In recent years, a strong correlation has emerged between declining pulmonary function, particularly in conditions like COPD, and cognitive decline—the initial signs of potential dementia development. Observations from healthcare professionals in the field, such as Deborah Inman and Martha Hardwick, indicated that cognitive decline often coincides with worsening respiratory problems. This intuitive notion was further validated by studies, revealing that a substantial percentage of individuals with lung disease and COPD experience cognitive impairment. 

Moreover, comparisons between younger and older COPD patients demonstrated accelerated cognitive decline in those with COPD, correlating with reduced physical capabilities and increased vulnerability to infections and exacerbations. Cognitive impairment was also prevalent in COPD patients, independent of disease severity. 

These findings underscore the tight link between pulmonary and cognitive impairment. However, the more pronounced effect in elderly COPD patients may be attributed to aging rather than disease progression. While some studies suggest a potential link between asthma developed in mid-life and cognitive impairment, further conclusive clinical evidence is awaited.


Bridging the Gap: Lung Function and Cognitive Health

Over several years, long-term surveys of extensive populations have reaffirmed the connection between impaired lung function and cognitive decline. Irrespective of underlying diseases, individuals with impaired lung function are likelier to exhibit worse cognitive function and face a higher risk of dementia-mediated hospitalization. 

Research on the elderly population has revealed that poor respiratory capacity is linked to reduced cognitive function and a lower quality of life. However, the precise mechanism connecting reduced cognitive function and impaired lung function remains a subject of ongoing investigation.


Breaking the Link: Strengthening Respiratory Muscles to Preserve Cognitive Function

As poor pulmonary and respiratory system performance drives enhanced cognitive decline, addressing underlying lung function issues may offer a means to slow cognitive deterioration. Strengthening respiratory muscles through resistance training is emerging as an effective countermeasure to prevent the onset of cognitive impairment.

A substantial clinical study involving 195 healthy elderly individuals recently examined the impact of respiratory muscle training (RMT) on cognitive function. Participants were divided into three groups: one engaged in social interaction activities, the second performed aerobic exercise through walking, and the third underwent breathing exercises and respiratory muscle training. After six months, cognitive function assessments revealed significant improvements in abstraction and mental flexibility among the RMT group. 

In contrast, the social interaction group exhibited enhanced semantic memory but decreased mental manipulation after the study period, while the walking group showed no improvements in cognitive function. These findings emphasize that respiratory muscle training and breathing exercises offer superior benefits for cognitive function compared to regular exercise or social interaction.

Another study focusing on elderly individuals with higher-than-normal blood pressure yielded similar results. In this case, RMT improved cognitive function, including memory and processing speed, within six weeks and reduced blood pressure by 10 mmHg. This highlights RMT as a holistic approach addressing various age-related symptoms.

Moreover, the benefits of RMT extend beyond age-related cognitive decline. Research investigating RMT’s effects on altitude-mediated cognitive impairment demonstrated that preparing the lungs for altitude improves processing speed and working memory at high altitudes, such as 12,000 feet. This suggests that RMT can be a valuable tool for mountaineers, athletes, pilots, and combat warriors operating at significant heights.


In Conclusion: The Promise of Respiratory Muscle Training

In conclusion, the article highlights the critical connection between lung health and cognitive well-being. With the irreversible aging process, improving lung function offers a potential means to enhance cognitive function or slow its decline. Emerging evidence suggests that targeted respiratory muscle training (RMT) positively influences cognitive function, memory, and mental fitness. 

Devices like “The Breather,” designed for inspiratory and expiratory muscle training, hold promise in reducing the risk of developing cognitive impairment and dementia during the aging process, particularly for individuals with compromised lung function. Additionally, RMT with “The Breather” may mitigate additional risk factors for dementia, such as high blood pressure and exercise intolerance.

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1 Comment

  1. Jean Voitel

    I’m looking forward to practice.


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