An elderly woman holding her head. LEHTIKUVA

Health & wellbeing

A recent study based on national registry data has revealed a significant increase in the annual number of memory disease diagnoses in Finland, far exceeding previous estimates. According to the new findings, approximately 23,000 Finns are diagnosed with memory-related diseases each year, a notable rise from the previously estimated 14,500 annual cases.

In 2021, Finland recorded around 151,000 individuals living with a diagnosed memory disease, predominantly among those aged 85 and older.

"When considering these results, it's important to acknowledge that registry data only account for confirmed cases. Thus, the actual number of people suffering from memory diseases is likely underestimated," explained Hanna-Maria Roitto, a specialist doctor at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

Projections for the year 2040 suggest that the number of individuals with memory diseases could reach 247,000 if the prevalence remains consistent with 2021 levels and the population of elderly people increases as forecasted by the Statistics Finland's population projection. This would represent a 64 percent increase in the number of affected individuals over the next two decades, primarily due to the aging population.

"The overall increase in the number of people with memory diseases in Finland is a consequence of demographic aging," Roitto stated.

Previous prevalence estimates for memory diseases in Finland were based on European population studies and Finnish research from the 1980s and 1990s. The current study, however, utilized comprehensive data from national social and health care treatment registries and records of medication purchases covered by the National Health Insurance (Kela) to assess the number of new diagnoses.

The study also highlighted significant regional disparities in the prevalence of memory diseases across Finland. The highest rates of diagnosis were in Kainuu (5,368 per 100,000 inhabitants) and Kymenlaakso (5,170 per 100,000), with the lowest in Åland Islands (1,414 per 100,000). "Areas with an older population tend to report more memory disease cases. However, population age structure alone does not explain these differences. Factors such as regional resources, care practices, and the prevalence of risk factors for memory diseases may also play a role," Roitto added.

Accurate data on the prevalence of memory diseases are crucial for developing interventions aimed at enhancing well-being and health. "Memory diseases and related symptoms are common among the elderly receiving regular services, leading to significant difficulties in daily activities," noted Roitto.

This research was conducted as part of the National Health Index project. The Memory Disease Index is a component of the National Health Index's morbidity indicator suite, which will be updated annually. The comprehensive data set includes several indicators of population morbidity and disability, produced in collaboration by the THL, Kela, the Finnish Centre for Pensions, and Statistics Finland.