People in their 40s increasingly developing dementia, study confirms

(Photo courtesy Thinkstock)
(Photo courtesy Thinkstock)

There are two things about dementia most people would agree on. One is that the thought of losing all or part of your mind is terrifying. The other is it’s a disease of the elderly.

The first is true, and getting truer. Dementia is taking hold in frightening new numbers.

As for the second? New research shows dementia is beginning to take hold of people in their 40s.

Colin Pritchard is a research professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Bournemouth University in England. He is co-author of a new report – published in Surgical Neurology International – that charts some alarming new trends.

“The research was actually stimulated by the fact that I had two friends dying from motor neuron disease,” Pritchard told Yahoo Canada.

“The textbooks, ten years ago, said that occurs in one in 100,000 people. Now, they say one in 50,000.”

Pritchard, who says he doesn’t know anywhere near 50,000 people, thought this was very unusual.

“This led to a series of studies looking at neurological death – not just dementia, but also brain disease deaths.”

And that led to this:

“Canadian males over 75 have had their brain disease deaths go up 79 per cent in 20 years. And your women have gone up 176 per cent. Your southern neighbours, the USA – who are the very epitome of modern living, the modern world, with its multiple pollutions and disruptive chemicals – their brain deaths have gone up nearly threefold for men, and a staggering fivefold for women.”

Pritchard was shocked by these numbers.

“In 20 years, to increase at that pace beggars any simple explanation,” he said, “other than to say: there’s something in the environment, and these people are responding to it.”

And as he worked, Pritchard became more and more aware not only that degenerative brain disease was spreading, its age range was expanding as well.

“I was contacted by a charity here in Britain called Young Dementia UK,” he said.

“I asked how old are their clients, and they said mainly in their early 40s. They’d been trying to press the government to look at this, and the government tended not to want to know.”

He says that of the new increases across the world – including Canada – about 60 per cent are dementia.

“But the scary thing is the other 40 per cent of the increases are other neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s.”

Pritchard’s team had hit a high, hard wall of effects. But the causes are much more elusive.

In the 20 years in question, the world has changed enormously. Technology alone has come a staggering distance, but Pritchard doubts the resulting EMF fields from cell phones, computers and the digital universe are enough to account for this.

We also live in a world that is becoming more – and more dangerously – polluted every day.

“The other [possible factor] – which is really very scary – is what toxicologists call endocrine disrupting chemicals,” he explained.

“For years, the chemistry industry has told us that organophosphates (used in pesticides and herbicides) are only certain parts per million. They’re absolutely right. But organophosphates are the basis of nerve gas. My biology colleagues tell me that these chemicals actually get conserved within the human body. This is very controversial.

“You can now measure breast milk, and find chemicals that didn’t used to be there,” Pritchard added.

Unable to pin this huge bloom in degenerative brain illness on any single cause, Pritchard began to widen the scope.

“The biggest thing, I now believe, is that these things interact,” he says.

“We’ve got more of these disruptive chemicals than we’ve ever had before. And we’ve got other interactions, like petrochemicals. Flying at 35,000 feet exposes us to charged particles in a way that human beings had never been exposed before.”

Pritchard declined to comment on the extent to which our cell phones and computers might be contributing. A case of too much going on, he said, and not yet enough time to get on top of all the causes.

“It’s not just any one of these things,” he concludes.

“It’s this soup of the new world we’re living in.”