HomeHealthBrain healthNeurological conditions fuel rise in deaths

Neurological conditions fuel rise in deaths

Researchers have flagged an alarming rise in the number of deaths related to neurological conditions in recent decades. Data published in The Lancet this month indicates an 18 per cent increase in related disabilities and deaths since 1990.

The new research also showed there are more than 3.4 billion people worldwide with some form of neurological condition. The study’s authors believe the data reflects a need for wider awareness of neurological conditions. In turn, they hope this will result in health departments around the world investing more in brain health.

Neurological conditions – what do they include and exclude?

This a reasonable question to pose, given that around 42 per cent of the world’s 8.1 billion people have one. Of course, one could argue that we all have a neurological condition. We all have neurons in some sort of condition, from perfect to poor.

For the purposes of the study, the researchers narrowed their definition to 37 specific conditions, detailed further here.

In broad terms, though, those conditions include neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, and movement disorders such as Parkinson’s. The authors have also included late-life neurodegeneration, and newly emergent conditions, such as cognitive impairment following COVID-19.

What did the study find?

In combination, the authors identified those neurological conditions as the leading cause of overall disease burden in the world. They noted increasing disability-adjusted life years (DALY) counts attributable to the 37 conditions.

The DALY is a World Health Organisation (WHO) method of measuring the burden of disease. One DALY represents the loss of the equivalent of one year of full health. Using this method, the study identified the 10 conditions with the highest age-standardised DALYs in 2021. These were:

  1. stroke
  2. neonatal encephalopathy
  3. migraine
  4. Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias
  5. diabetic neuropathy
  6. meningitis
  7. epilepsy
  8. neurological complications due to preterm birth
  9. autism spectrum disorder
  10. nervous system cancer.

Based on the analysis, the authors called for “effective prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation strategies for disorders affecting the nervous system”. As is the case with many adverse health events, a focus on lower and middle-income countries has been urged.

Why the increase in neurological conditions?

This is a matter of speculation, but Dr David Merrill, a geriatric psychiatrist from California, has one strong theory – ageing. “Age is the single largest non-modifiable risk factor for dementia,” said Dr Merrill. “So perhaps an ageing world has contributed in part to the increasing levels of neurologic conditions in recent years.”

Dr Merrill is the director of the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Centre in Santa Monica. He was not associated with the research. While the rise in the numbers of neurological conditions is concerning, the outlook is not entirely grim, Dr Merrill said.

“Our health-related behaviours make a difference. We can lower our risk of developing chronic neurologic conditions like dementia through optimising our lifestyle-related behaviours. That includes regular exercise, socialising, cognitive stimulation, and a healthy diet.”

Achieving such aims may be a challenge in lower and middle-income countries, but for most Australians, this should be attainable.

Have you been diagnosed with a neurological condition? How has it affected your quality of life? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Can playing Wordle boost your brain?

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigaczhttps://www.patreon.com/AndrewGigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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