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With 700,000 people in the UK living with dementia and with the numbers forecast to double within a generation, the report argues all European governments including the UK need to invest now for tomorrow [1].

In these tough economic times, Governments across the EU are looking at ways to slash public budgets and curtail spending. The report launched today argues that policy interventions on dementia will reap rewards of their own, particularly with regard to early diagnosis, prevention and investment in research and development.

The report, made possible by a grant from Pfizer Inc, has been published as a literature review and policy brief, entitled ‘A problem shared is a problem halved? Dementia: Learning opportunities from Europe’. The report comes at a time of growing awareness of dementia at the UK and EU level [2].

The report argues that:

  • There is still widespread disparity in the diagnosis, treatment and care of people with dementia across Europe.
  • Discrimination, ignorance and prejudice of dementia is rife.
  • All EU countries will need to prioritise spending on dementia and reconcile need, want and value for the public purse in the coming years.
  • There is increasing evidence to show early diagnosis coupled with effective early interventions and services are cost effective. Not only in terms of net savings, but in terms of the positive social outcomes for the patients’ families and caregivers.
  • The identification of modifiable risk factors that prevent dementia or slow its progression must be a priority, this includes preventative factors such as a healthy diet, promoting physical and cognitive activity and controlling cardiovascular risk factors. Such investments in preventative measures would also improve general public health.
  • National Action Plans like the National Dementia Strategy launched in England in 2009 are increasingly considered to be the ‘gold standard’ of policy interventions across Europe. However dementia specific actions and programmes are not in themselves a panacea, if problems in the wider health and social care arena are not addressed.
  • There is an increasingly important role for the European Union Institutions to foster, promote and stimulate collaboration between EU Member States.


Baroness Greengross, the Chief Executive of the ILC-UK said:

Dementia is a ticking time bomb and with the number of people with dementia expected to rise significantly in the coming years, our health and social care systems will face collapse if we do not prioritise public spending on dementia now.

The prejudice and stigma attached to dementia has not served it well in terms of the ‘public sell’. This has to change and the Government has to lead by example. In particular we need more investment in research to improve prevention, diagnosis and treatment. [3]”

The author of the report Sally-Marie Bamford, ILC-UK Senior Researcher added:

“There is no longer just a moral and social argument for prioritising dementia, but the economic imperative is now overwhelming - the implications for our health and social care system will be profound, if we do not address the key issues of ageing and dementia now.

Officials in charge of the public purse need to stop thinking ‘Can we afford to do this?’, but rather ‘Can we afford not to’.”


ENDS

[1] In the UK, according to the Dementia UK report from King's College London and the London School of Economics (commissioned by the Alzheimer's Society) dementia currently costs the UK over £17billion per year.
Dementia costs in the UK will reach almost £35 billion within 20 years according to the King's Fund's 2008 report 'Paying the Price'.

[2] In the UK, The Government launched the National Dementia Strategy for England in February 2009 and held a Ministerial Dementia Research Summit in July 2009.

[3] The spend on dementia research is £32 million a year in the UK, which is only one eight of what the Government spends on cancer.If scientists could develop a treatment that would reduce severe cognitive impairment in older people by just 1% per year, this would cancel out all estimated increases in the long-term care costs due to our ageing population.
Source: Cognitive impairment in older people: its implications for future demand for services and costs. Adelina Comas-Herrera, Raphael Wittenberg, Linda Pickard, Martin Knapp and MRC-CFAS. PSSRU Discussion Paper
Cognitive Impairment in Older People: future demand for long-term care services and the associated costs (2007) by Adelina Comas-Herrera, Raphael Wittenberg, Linda Pickard and Martin Knapp 1728.

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