Epidemic Surging Globally

By Mr. Joseph Cuschieri, Labour Head of Delegation in the European Parliament and a member of the European Alzheimer’s Alliance.  

One of my engagements as a member of the European Parliament is my work in support of the European Alzheimer’s Alliance. Dementia is a challenge for all member states of the European Union and, in my opinion, it is an issue that should be prioritized by the European institutions.

I recently hosted a meeting of the European Alzheimer’s Alliance in Brussels to discuss the different dimensions of this condition from a European perspective.

It was a pleasure to have Mr. Jean Georgee, Executive Director of Alzheimer Europe, as a keynote speaker at the event. He spoke about the objectives and findings of Dementia Monitor, which should inform and enlighten policy makers, activists and practitioners involved in this field.

In addition, the Alzheimer Europe Conference held in Malta in October was an important occasion for over 400 participants active in this field to come together and discuss different aspects of the challenges linked to dementia.

More than 100 experts from 23 countries made presentations about dementia, while 60 Alzheimer’s disease researchers shared their findings.

Alzheimer’s disease presents a significant challenge for Europe. When one considers the fact that seven million people in Europe have Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia this is a clear indication that Alzheimer’s disease should be an important policy focus from an institutional point of view.

Besides, according to forecasts, it is expected to increase in the coming years and globally it is estimated that there will be more than four million new cases of dementia each year. There are currently over 4,500 persons with dementia in Malta and this figure is expected to rise progressively over the next 10 years to 6,000.

The impact on health and social services is immense and it is very important that we ensure that the right action is taken to address the situation.

Dementia also affects some 21 million informal caregivers in Europe. It is a complex condition and there are no straightforward causes to it and no clear way to prevent it. There is no cure but there are treatments that delay the onset of the disease that can improve the quality of life of individuals.

There are several forms of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, accounting for 50 and 70% of patients.

It is also important to address the misconceptions about dementia. The disease does not only affect old people. With early onset dementia, it also affects people below the age of 65. Nevertheless, with an ageing population in Europe, the number of people with dementia will increase significantly. By 2030, the number of Europeans over 65 will rise by nearly 40 percent.

Family is another central point of the equation. A lot of the informal care is provided by family members and the overall number of informal carers is under pressure too due to low birth rates, smaller families, greater physical distances between relatives, the rising number of women entering the labour market as well as an increasingly prolonged working life.

Cost is another important aspect and dementia is an expensive disease. According to data from the Alzheimer Europe EuroCoDe project, the total direct cost of formal and informal care is €21,000 per patient every year. Fifty-six percent of this goes to informal care.

There are many differences in access to diagnosis, treatment and care between the member states. This makes it imperative on member states to collaborate and coordinate their approaches together.

It is important to compare and benchmark how EU countries deal with the rising number of people with dementia. Although awareness about the challenges has improved and actions have been taken, we should not be complacent. A lot still needs to be done and it is imperative that citizens and authorities in all member states are aware of the challenges. It is important that European institutions and governments around Europe collaborate actively with Alzheimer associations on the ground with a view to finding active solutions.

Mr. Cuschieri is the Labour Head of Delegation in the European Parliament, and a member of the European Alzheimer’s Alliance.

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Gary Chandler is a prion expert. He is the CEO of Crossbow Communications, author of several books and producer of documentaries about health and environmental issues around the world. Chandler is connecting the dots to the global surge in neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, chronic wasting disease and other forms of prion disease.