The Dementia Experience Around the World

Categories: Advocacy, Living with Dementia|By |Published On: |
Illustration by saemilee/iStock; Asya_mix/iStock; Lidiia Moor/istock.

Illustration by saemilee/iStock; Asya_mix/iStock; Lidiia Moor/istock.

According to Alzheimer’s Disease International:  “Someone in the world develops dementia every 3 seconds.” In 2017, that translated to close to 50 million people across the world living with dementia. It is a disease that doesn’t discriminate — every single country in the world is impacted by it. Diagnosis may be on the rise, but so too is global awareness of it. Currently, there are 32 national dementia plans, which the World Health Organization would like to increase to 146 by 2025. Now, more than ever, people living with dementia are speaking out to reduce stigma and advocate for their rights, long-term care facilities are challenging traditional care models to increase quality of life for residents, and bright minds across the world are hard at to work to find a cure. From global organizations fueling research to people living with dementia navigating multiple languages, we take a closer look at dementia across the globe.

Global Statistics

A snapshot of the international numbers and specifics related to dementia today



1 in 5 Canadians have experience caring for someone living with dementia.

564,000+ Canadians are living with dementia.

25,000 The estimated number of new cases of dementia being diagnosed in Canada annually.

$10.4 billion The annual cost to Canadians to care for those living with dementia.

65% of people diagnosed with dementia over the age of 65 are women.


6 Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S.

5.8 million Americans are currently living with dementia.

16 million+ Americans provide unpaid care to people living with dementia.


3.5 million The projected number of people in Mexico who will be living with dementia by the year 2050.

Costa Rica 

2014 The year Costa Rica launched a national Alzheimer plan, the first low- or middle-income country to do so.


5 Alzheimer’s is the fifth- leading cause of death in Argentina.

2016 The year Argentina launched the National Strategic Plan for a Healthy Brain, AD and other Dementias. It was the first plan in Latin America to focus primarily on risk reduction.


In 2018, Scotland’s Dementia Champions Programme was named one of the U.K.’s best breakthroughs for its impact on people’s everyday lives. The intensive eight-month program teaches health and social-care professionals to see, hear and feel the experiences of people living with dementia by working closely with them, their caregivers and families. Today, there are more than 850 Dementia Champions working in Scotland.


15% is what the Netherlands, a world leader in elder care, spends of its gross national product on health care, including elder care.

2001 The year that France launched Europe’s first national dementia plan.

7.5 million the number of people living with dementia in western Europe, the second highest in the world.


7 The number of developing countries that STRiDE (Strengthening responses to dementia in developing countries initiative) is building research capacity and providing evidence on dementia care for, including two in Africa, South Africa and Kenya.


2005 Australia was one of the first countries in the world to create a national dementia plan when it launched Dementia Initiative – making Dementia a National Health Priority in 2005.

447,115 Australians are living with dementia.

1.5 million Australians are involved in caring for someone living with dementia.


2015 The year Japan spearheaded its New Orange Plan for dementia, which includes campaigns to raise public awareness and create trained “dementia supporters” within communities.

9.8 million The number of people living with dementia in 2015 in east Asia, the highest rate in the world.

1 in 5 people in Japan are projected to be living with dementia by 2025.


Dementia featured heavily at the G20 Health Ministers Meeting held this past October in Okayama, Japan. The meeting brought together health ministers from 19 countries and the European Union, along with guest countries and organizations, to discuss high-priority issues of global health. All members committed to addressing the biggest health and social crisis the world faces today: dementia. The resulting Okayama Declaration of the G20 Health Ministers Meeting included several vital commitments around dementia.

Article 29 of the document states: “We commit to developing and implementing multi-sectoral national action plans, adopting integrated approaches on dementia in line with the Global Action Plan to improve the quality of care and the quality of life of people with dementia, their families and caregivers.”

Article 30 addresses prevention, early detection, diagnosis, intervention and strengthening primary health care, as well as supporting healthy aging. “We also recognize the importance of including older persons with disabilities in efforts to support healthy and active aging, including the provision of social and health services in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

Intergenerational living in the Netherlands. Photo courtesy Sander van Wettum.

Intergenerational living in the Netherlands. Photo courtesy Sander van Wettum.

Dementia Care

With the number of people in the world living with dementia projected to reach 82 million by 2030, the need for creative approaches to enhancing quality of life grows ever stronger. These eight approaches from around the globe are an example of some of the innovative ways to offer quality care to individuals with dementia.


Intergenerational Living in Care Homes

In 2012, Gea Sijpkes, CEO of the Humanitas care home in Deventer, Netherlands, invited university students to live at the care home among the elderly residents, rent-free. The only condition: students had to socialize and be generally neighbourly with the older residents for a minimum of 30 hours per month. That could include preparing meals for residents, taking them around town on a recumbent tandem bike, and simply chatting, telling stories and sharing quality time together.

Today, six students live in Humanitas alongside more than 100 elderly residents, about 70 per cent of whom live with dementia.

United Kingdom 

Sharing a Love of Literature 

Dr. Johanna Harris, a senior lecturer in the English department at the University of Exeter, knows the power of a good story. In 2011, she pioneered the Exeter Care Homes Reading Project. English students from the university volunteer to visit different care homes in Exeter to read out loud to the residents. More than 100 English students volunteer each year to share the power of literature with care home residents, including those living with dementia.

Staff from participating care homes have seen the project spark conversation, trigger long-term memories in residents, create a sense of familiarity and calm, and inspire a more social atmosphere.

Using Sport to Reminisce Together

The Sporting Memories Network program is present in care homes, community venues and hospital units across England and Wales. Trained volunteers encourage program participants over the age of 50, many of whom live with dementia, to recall and share their favourite sporting memories. That might mean remembering a monumental past win at a big tournament like Wimbledon or the FIFA World Cup, or recalling the fun they had participating in a particular sport. Photographs, sports memorabilia, radio sound bites and physical activities (like “New Age Kurling,” an iceless version of curling) are all used to trigger memories and initiate the sharing of stories.


Mail and More

As well as delivering the mail, France’s postal service, La Poste, runs a program called Veiller sur mes parents (“Watch over my parents”). Through the program, which was introduced in 2017, postal workers connect and visit with elderly men and women along their routes every day, except Sunday. Subscribers, usually relatives of elderly residents, pay a monthly fee to La Poste and are alerted through an app after every visit if their relative is well or in need of assistance. No minimum visit time is mandated, but postal workers tend to spend between six and 15 minutes chatting with each person.


Choosing Your Own Care

Germany is one of only a few countries in the world that offers an insurance system for long-term care.

Created in 1995, the Long Term Care Insurance (LTCI) program provides long-term care allowance benefits to persons who are defined as “frail” by Germany’s Social Security Code. There are three levels and kinds of care, including family care, professional home care and informal care. People who choose the informal care option receive a cash allowance monthly; otherwise, care providers are paid directly by the program.

LTCI gives people who need care the autonomy to hire people they know at times that are convenient for them. Since its creation, LTCI has reduced dependence on government provided health care and helps mitigate health-care workforce shortages.


Living a Normal, Everyday Life

Dr. Bill Thomas founded the Green House Project care home model back in 2001. He believed that individuals with dementia should live in real homes, not institutions or home-like facilities. He advocated for a care home model where seniors could experience privacy, dignity and autonomy just as they would at home. Residents live in small houses with 10 to 12 others, there’s an open kitchen and an inviting living room, and everyone gets a private bedroom and washroom. Residents have independence and control over their environment, choosing when they’d like to go to bed, when they’d like to eat and whether they’d like to walk around the Green House neighbourhood.

Today, there are nearly 300 Green House homes across the U.S.


With the Help of Robots

The Shin-tomi Nursing Home in Tokyo uses 20 different robots to support frontline staff in their day-to-day tasks, like Tree, a robot that helps residents walk and move. The robots are also companions for residents, like Pepper, a friendly humanoid robot that is roughly four feet tall, can guide exercise and dance classes, and can engage in basic conversations. Animal-like robots, such as the baby harp seal, Paro, or robotic cats, respond to residents’ touch by moving or making noise, and are proven to be calming for residents.

In the spring of 2017, a research team with the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development found that robots that interact with humans increased the independence and activity of 34 per cent of seniors at care homes. And today, roughly 5,000 care homes across Japan are analyzing how best to incorporate technology to support care for individuals with dementia.

IKEA’s prefab homes are designed for people living with dementia. Photo courtesy SilviaBo.

IKEA’s prefab homes are designed for people living with dementia. Photo courtesy SilviaBo.


Welcome Home

IKEA is launching prefab homes designed for people living with dementia. The furniture giant is working with BoKlok, an affordable housing company it owns together with Swedish construction firm Skanska, to create the homes. Queen Silvia of Sweden is also a major partner in the project and sits on the steering board. Dementia-inclusive elements include removing mirrors from bathrooms, replacing modern buttons with old-fashioned knobs on appliances and incorporating nature and shared common spaces. The goal of the affordable housing project is to support aging members of the population to stay at home longer. So far, a pilot home with six apartments has been built with more scheduled in the coming year. [