Will this be the year that turns the corner for dementia?

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By Katy Riddick | Thursday 09 January 2014

The close of 2013 brought the first-ever G8 Summit on Dementia, a meeting of the world’s top economies to commit to tackling dementia jointly. The summit brought a great deal of attention to the global need for dementia research and encouraged hope for a cure. As we begin 2014 we might start to wonder: Will this be the year that turns the corner for dementia?

New investment in research has become a global priority

The G8 summit attendees set an ambitious goal to identify a cure by 2025. To achieve this they agreed to collectively and significantly increase the amount spent on dementia research, and to increase the number of people involved in clinical trials and studies on dementia. The UK pledged to double government funding from 2015, to reach £132 million in funding by 2025, and will be leading the creation of a new global envoy for dementia innovation. Member countries will develop an international action plan for research as well as facilitate the sharing of information and data, encouraging open access to all publicly-funded dementia research. If the commitments set forth in the G8 Summit Communique are met, we will see monumental steps forward in the dementia research field unlike any time in the past.

Several countries took the opportunity to announce their own initiatives as well to improve care and bolster research efforts, recognising the growing need in their nations:

  • Canada is currently investing CAN$860m (£495m) in research funds for neurological conditions, which includes CAN$236m (£136m) in Alzheimer’s and dementia research specifically. It is also investing CAN$100m (£57m) in a Canadian Brain Research Fund, for which Alzheimer’s Research UK is a partner. By 2030, the number of Canadians over the age of 65 is expected to rise to more than 20 per cent of the population.
  • France has invested €475m (£400m) in dementia research in total and is launching the 4th iteration of the national dementia strategy in 2014, noting a prioritisation of clinical research in future investment.
  • Germany has been making strides in care training, developing a program to train local community members with input from the UK’s Alzheimer’s Society. Germany is also developing a national dementia strategy and investing €11m (£9m) in dementia research specifically, in conjunction with €70m (£59m) for a research network for neurodegeneration research. In Germany there are 1.4m people with dementia currently.
  • Italy is launching its first ever dementia strategy in 2014, with the goal of having a preliminary design by the spring.
  • Japan is coping with the world’s most rapidly ageing population with 25% of people over the age of 60. Last September, Japan launched plans to develop a preventive approach to dementia, driven in part by the perceived stigma that may prevent sufferers from seeking diagnosis.
  • The EU is considering a joint action in support of dementia research, having offered €2 billion (£1.68bn) since 2007 for brain research. The EU has recently launched Horizon 2020, and used the G8 event to announce the availability of €1.2bn (£1bn) to proposals by health researchers, for which neurodegeneration projects will “feature prominently”. In addition, the Innovative Medicines Initiative made available €25m (£21m) for the development of prevention research, and announced €1 bn (£840m) for the Human Brain Project.

Each of these efforts is a stride forward for dementia research. However, the combined total of these efforts is a movement that will eventually allow us to prevent, delay or even cure dementia.

There were some promising research findings in 2013 and cause for optimism, but we know that a cure for dementia is still some way off. In all likelihood it will be too far away to help many of those currently living with dementia. However, we maintain hope that with concerted global investment and our pioneering researchers, treatments that could slow or stop the disease are somewhere on the horizon. Every day we get a little bit closer, and 2014 just might be the year that makes all the difference.

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Katy Riddick