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Number of people living with brain disease expected to double by 2050

By Priscilla Lynch - 05th Nov 2023

brain diease

Neurological disorders are currently the second highest cause of death and the leading cause of disability worldwide. A new Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study presented during the 2023 World Congress of Neurology shows that the number of people living with brain disease is expected to double by 2050.

“Our study found that over 40 per cent of the global population currently suffer from some kind of neurological condition and this burden is projected to nearly double by 2050,” said Prof Valery Feigin, Professor of Neurology and Epidemiology, National Institute for Stroke and Applied Neurosciences, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. “This is a warning – if we do not do enough to combat neurological disorders the whole health system will be in crisis.”

The GBD study is the most comprehensive effort to date to chart the global burden of neurological disorders and is designed to help guide policymaking and healthcare decisions at global and national levels. The findings will drive research into the most burdensome disorders and direct investment to areas experiencing the highest levels of burden.

The study includes data on the 36 most common neurological disorders and conditions worldwide and provides estimates on the prevalence, years lived with disability, years of life lost, and disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) for each condition.

Currently, 10 conditions account for around 90 per cent of total neurological DALYs:

  • Stroke;
  • Neonatal encephalopathy;
  • Migraine;
  • Dementia;
  • Meningitis;
  • Epilepsy;
  • Neurological complications associated with preterm birth;
  • Nervous system cancers;
  • Autism spectrum disorders;
  • Parkinson’s disease.

“These diseases were the 10 greatest contributors to nervous system burden worldwide,” said Prof Feigin. “If we focus on combating these 10 diseases, we can reduce the global burden dramatically, but we need to identify causes, risk factors, the most effective treatments, and rehabilitation strategies through research.”

Significant geographical and economical disparity is increasing the burden of neurological conditions in low- and middle-income countries. While 80 per cent of the world’s population live in low- and middle-income countries, these countries account for over 90 per cent of neurological disability, and 84 per cent of all deaths due to neurological conditions worldwide.

“Given that neurological disorders are already the global leading cause of disability and death combined, the fastest-growing cause of death, and that the projected increase of their burden outpace the burden of most other non-communicable disorders, I believe neurological disorders should no longer be ‘a’ global health priority – they should be considered ‘the’ global health priority,” said Prof  Feigin.

A paper published last month in The Lancet Neurology added to the projections made in the GBD study. According to this paper titled ‘Pragmatic solutions to reduce the global burden of stroke: A World Stroke Organisation – Lancet Neurology Commission’ – unless urgent action is taken, the number of people who die from stroke globally is estimated to increase by 50 per cent, to 9.7 million deaths per year, by 2050. Based on a review of evidence-based guidelines, recent surveys and in-depth interviews with stroke experts around the world, the authors make evidence-based pragmatic recommendations to reduce the global burden, including measures to improve stroke surveillance, prevention, acute care, and rehabilitation.

“Stroke exerts an enormous toll on the world’s population, leading to the death and permanent disability of millions of people each year and costing billions of dollars,” said Prof Feigin, who is also the Lancet Neurology Commission co-chair. Visit to learn more about Prof Feigin and all the featured research at this year’s World Congress of Neurology, which took place in Montreal, Canada, from 15-19 October.

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