A challenge we must accept to change a future we can’t


By Hilary Evans | Wednesday 21 March 2018

At Alzheimer’s Research UK, we believe that research has the power to make breakthroughs possible. We believe in it so strongly that part of the work we do focuses on preparing the way for treatments before they’ve even succeeded in clinical trials.

That’s why in a new report out today, Alzheimer’s Research UK is shedding light on some stark realities about future dementia treatments and their impact on our health system. We’re also calling for action to ensure future treatments reach the people who need them.

We know that the sheer number of people living with dementia means that delivering future treatments is likely to pose a significant practical and financial challenge to the NHS.

However, we also believe that this challenge is surmountable.

Research happening today will bring about the treatments of tomorrow, and the health system must be ready to get these treatments to people living with dementia without unnecessary delay.

In the report

We commissioned the London School of Economics to study how five hypothetical treatments might impact people living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, and how they might impact the NHS. What we found is that our health system will need to think differently to cope with the unique challenges presented by future treatments.

Most importantly, we saw that those treatments could help people with dementia to live longer with a higher quality of life. Two of the treatments we studied would help to delay the onset of dementia, while others would increase the time people live with mild stages of dementia before their symptoms worsen.

Overview of stages of Alzheimer’s disease with treatments overlaid.

The findings also confirmed something we already suspected – that diagnosing dementia earlier will help us to treat people with the condition more effectively. Intervening earlier in the disease process also translates to pounds saved in social and informal care. Currently, we aren’t diagnosing early enough to reap these benefits.

Although we know dementia costs the UK economy £26bn annually, much of that cost is carried by family and friends who provide care in their homes for loved ones living with dementia. Social and informal care account for 80% of the annual cost of dementia, and we know from listening to our supporters what a toll that can take, financially and emotionally.

All but one of the treatment scenarios we examined resulted in savings in informal and social care costs. However, the current system that evaluates potential treatments does not include these savings.

All of the findings from this report are incredibly important and cannot be ignored. But we have a window of opportunity to build on this insight and work collaboratively and innovatively to ready the health system for future treatments.

Dementia Access Taskforce

With over 1 million people expected to be living with dementia in the UK by 2025, we have a duty to ensure that people with the condition and their families can benefit from innovations in new treatments in the coming years.

That’s the mission behind the taskforce Alzheimer’s Research UK is launching today. The Dementia Access Taskforce will work to ensure that people with dementia can get future dementia treatments quickly, and we are calling on government, the NHS and the pharmaceutical industry to join us in this effort.

Based on what we have learned through this report, the taskforce aims to develop an action plan, including:

  • Engage with the NHS and clinicians with experience in dementia to help address potential hurdles for new treatments and recommended timescales to implement changes around future treatments.
  • Develop a plan to begin diagnosing dementia 15 to 20 years earlier.
  • Ensure the assessment of new treatments for dementia captures their full value, including impact on carers and both the health and social care systems.
  • Develop innovative funding models to share the cost of future treatments between pharmaceutical companies and the NHS.

Overcoming Challenges

Viv Hill, mother had dementia

When confronted with challenges, people living with dementia and their loved ones know what it means to push on, to keep going, to find a way around. We are approaching this challenge with the same endurance.

Every race run, every mountain hiked, every bake sale held, and every quiz night hosted helps to bring us closer to the first life-changing treatment for dementia. We have come so far with your help, but we know there is more work to do. We’ll continue to work relentlessly until we’ve created a world free from the fear, harm and heartbreak of dementia.

Read the full report


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About the author

Hilary Evans

Hilary is Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, which is a charity working at a global level to find a cure for dementia. The organisation’s aim is to raise awareness of the diseases that cause dementia, to increase dementia research funding and improve the environment for dementia scientists in the UK and internationally.