Leading charity calls for action as dementia becomes the UK’s biggest killer

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By Kirsty Marais | Tuesday 07 November 2017

Dementia is now the leading cause of death in the UK, as new figures reveal that for the first time, the condition is killing more people per year than heart disease.

Alzheimer’s Research UK has called for urgent action following the news – with a doubling of dementia research funding over the next five years essential to maintain momentum in research.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency released its figures for causes of death in the country today, 7 November 2017. Combined with the 2016 data for England, Wales and Scotland, which was released earlier this year, the figures show that dementia is now causing more deaths in the UK than any other condition – with 70,366 people dying from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, compared to 66,076 due to heart disease.

Previously, dementia was the leading cause of death for women in the UK, and the second for men, but heart disease was actually the biggest cause of death overall in the UK. There were 69,785 deaths from heart disease in 2015, while 69,182 people died from dementia.

In the wake of the news, Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, is urging the government to double its annual investment in dementia research to £132m over the next five years. Investment in dementia research has grown in recent years after the charity highlighted the severe lack of funding for the condition. The launch of pioneering initiatives like the Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance and the UK Dementia Research Institute are also helping to progress the dementia research landscape. But there is still only one dementia researcher for every four working on cancer – which is why Alzheimer’s Research UK is calling for action again.

Hilary Evans, Chief Executive at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“These startling figures emphasise the health crisis we face in the UK at the hands of dementia. Year-on-year, we are seeing more people conquer and survive serious health conditions like heart disease, but deaths from dementia continue to rise. The fact that there are currently no treatments to slow or stop the diseases behind dementia brings into sharp focus the scale of the challenge and the urgency with which we must tackle it.

“Dementia may be the biggest killer in the UK today, but research has the power to stop this from being the case in the future. For too long, funding for dementia research has lagged behind other serious health conditions. Today’s news must act as a catalyst for urgently-needed action to boost investment in cutting-edge dementia science and take advantage of the UK’s strengths in medical research.

“Initiatives like the Alzheimer’s Research UK Drug Discovery Alliance and the new £250m UK Dementia Research Institute are helping to build on the promising discoveries already made in research, but these statistics act as a wake-up call that we must work faster. To be able to defeat dementia, it is essential that, at a minimum, the government commits to doubling its annual investment in dementia research to £132m over the next five years. Along with further investment and collaboration from charity and industry, this commitment will ensure that the pace of breakthroughs in research can match the growing devastation that dementia brings.

“Today, we live in a world where people are surviving conditions that were once a death sentence, which is an incredible achievement that has changed millions of lives. With the same level of investment in research, we will be able to offer the same hope to people with dementia.”


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Kirsty Marais