GENEVA -- The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that as the global population ages, the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple by 2050, undermining both social and economic development.

Dementia is a general term for several diseases that are mostly progressive, affecting memory, other cognitive abilities and behavior and interfering significantly with a person's ability to maintain the activities of daily living.

Of its kind, Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia and accounts for 60 percent to 70 percent of cases. The other common types are vascular dementia and mixed forms.

The UN health agency estimated that the total population affected by dementia could triple from 50 million to 152 million by 2050.

Given that the current annual global cost of dementia is already estimated at USD818 billion, equivalent to more than 1 percent of the global GDP, it is estimated that by 2030, the cost is expected to have more than doubled to USD2 trillion, which would seriously undermine social and economic development and overwhelm health and social services, including long-term care systems.

"Nearly 10 million people develop dementia each year, six million of them in low- and middle-income countries," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

"The suffering that results is enormous. This is an alarm call: we must pay greater attention to this growing challenge and ensure that all people living with dementia, wherever they live, get the care that they need," he added.

Facing that challenge, the WHO launched on Thursday the Global Dementia Observatory, a web-based platform to track progress on the provision of services for people with dementia and for those who care for them.

Besides information on surveillance systems and disease burden data, the platform will also monitor the presence of national policy and plans, risk reduction measures and infrastructure for providing care and treatment.

"This is the first global monitoring system for dementia that includes such a comprehensive range of data," said Tarun Dua from the WHO's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse.

"The system will not only enable us to track progress, but just as importantly, to identify areas where future efforts are most needed."

The WHO is also calling for a rapid scale-up of research on dementia, not only to find a cure for dementia, but also in the areas of prevention, risk reduction, diagnosis, treatment and care. (Xinhua)