Recent studies and headlines have been spreading fear of a dementia "epidemic," but new research suggests dementia rates are actually stabilizing in some western European countries.

A number of "shocking" figures have been published that suggest a dramatic increase in dementia prevalence and related cost burdens, but a review of dementia occurrence in five studies in the U.K., Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands between 2007 and 2013 suggests otherwise, the University of Cambridge reported. The findings revealed a stable or reduced prevalence at specific ages over the past few decades in the included countries.

The misinformation may have occurred because of overall failure to recognize the complexity of dementia diagnoses. The criteria used to diagnose this illness varies across different countries and time periods, which can have an influence on occurrence estimates. More people are diagnosed with early stages of dementia than they were in past decades, and these conditions do not always progress into serious dementia cases. The introduction of biomarkers for diagnosis will likely create an even larger data disparity, as many individuals will be identified as being at risk.

"There might be more than careless use of research evidence at play. The worsening epidemic message also fits well with consumer psychology and the recent history of over-[medicalization]: fear, demand for a solution, and salvation. The world is looking for a silver bullet," the researchers said in a statement.

Since the G8 summit of 2013 there has been a "manhunt" for a dementia cure. This has been met with major investment from public and private funding bodies. Finding these types of therapies could mean large potential profits for pharmaceutical companies. These profits could be even greater if dementia therapies could be prescribed to younger patients who have a high risk of developing the disease later in life.

"But if dementia prevalence is indeed stable or even declining, might past policies provide a better answer? Remember we are talking about a generation which experienced substantial post-war investments in education and [socialized] healthcare, and a partial reduction in social inequalities as a result. If it has worked thus far, the same kind of approach might be the best way forward for the future. Adopting a drug-only approach is likely to lead to widening inequalities of access and problems with affordability, as we learned with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other diseases," the researchers concluded.

The findings were published in a recent edition of the journal Lancet Neurology.