Dementia (Alzheimer's Disease)

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Notice about research

Giving What We Can no longer conducts our own research into charities and cause areas. Instead, we're relying on the work of organisations including J-PAL, GiveWell, and the Open Philanthropy Project, which are in a better position to provide more comprehensive research coverage.

These research reports represent our thinking as of late 2016, and much of the information will be relevant for making decisions about how to donate as effectively as possible. However we are not updating them and the information may therefore be out of date.

Impact Summary

  • Importance: 3/5
  • Tractability: 2/5
  • Neglectedness: 3/5

Charity Impact

  • Cost Effectiveness: 2.5/5
  • Robustness of Evidence: 2/5
  • Track Record: 3.5/5
  • Room for More Funding: Yes
Learn More Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

Fast Facts

  • Alzheimer’s disease causes a progressive decline in cognitive and motor function, and eventually results in severe brain damage and death.
  • Alzheimer’s causes 3.02% of all deaths worldwide.
  • In developed nations, this figure rises to 7.02%.

The following cause-level investigation was completed as part of a bespoke report for an individual donor. Giving What We Can has not prioritised dementia as a primary cause area and our investigation to date has not suggested a level of cost-effectiveness or neglectedness to suggest that it could be among the highest priority causes. In addition, for this report we only considered charities working within the United Kingdom. Although anti-tobacco advocacy groups in general are likely to be relatively cost-effective in reducing dementia prevalence, they may be a great deal more or less cost-effective than Action on Smoking and Health. Given this, the following report may provide some useful insights into dementia as a cause area, but we do not recommend donations in this area or to this charity as an effective way to improve overall human health.

Dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease, constitutes a large portion of the burden of disease and total mortality in high-income countries (HICs) such as the United Kingdom (see Section 2). However, no effective treatments are currently available for Alzheimer’s disease nor is there a clear understanding of the causal mechanism by which the disease develops (see Sections 1 and 3).

Nevertheless, there is a large body of evidence linking the disease to tobacco use, and it has been estimated that smokers have a 40-79% greater probability of developing Alzheimer’s disease (see Section 4). This indicates that mortality and morbidity due to the disease might be greatly reduced by reducing the number of people who smoke, and for this purpose we recommend the advocacy charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), given its relatively high cost-effectiveness.