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Home » Alzheimer's disease, EU Health, Health

Reformulating the approach to managing Alzheimer’s in Europe

Submitted by on 13 Nov 2017 – 14:54

On the 13th of July 2017, the International Centre for Parliamentary Studies convened the Alzheimer’s Europe Roundtable to create a platform to examine Alzheimer’s disease in Europe from a multi-sector perspective and to address key policy challenges relating to the care and treatment of the disease. JOSHUA WHITE, Research & Development Manager at ICPS, offers insight into the key recommendations proposed by the delegates of the roundtable

Alzheimer’s disease is fast emerging as one the most pressing and daunting public health challenges in both Europe and around the world. The cost of dementia in Europe is forecast to rise to over $250 billion by 2030, with an estimated 14 million individuals living with dementia. Over the last two decades, Alzheimer’s disease has begun to take a place of priority on the European health policy agenda. Despite this progress, many practitioners and stakeholders agree that more needs to be done to raise awareness and develop standards of treatment and care.

The ICPS Alzheimer’s Europe Roundtable brought together representatives from the European Parliament, the European Commission, members of national Alzheimer’s associations, leading clinicians in the fields of psychology and neurology, and key industry stakeholders to formulate a strategy to better manage the disease in Europe.

Lobbying national governments

A central theme to emerge from the roundtable discussion was the need to lobby all European national governments to implement comprehensive national dementia strategies in order to effectively manage Alzheimer’s disease and provide a framework of care for those who suffer from it. Roundtable participants highlighted the divide between East and West Europe when assessing the prevalence and quality of national dementia strategies.  Whilst Western Europe has made substantial progress implementing national dementia strategies, this progress has been less pronounced among Eastern European nations. As such, roundtable participants highlighted the need to lobby and collaborate with Eastern European Governments to raise awareness and encourage the uniform development of national dementia strategies across the continent.

Striking a balance between cure and care

The development of neuroimaging, biomarker indicators, brain plasticity and disease modifying treatments point towards a future where successfully treating and preventing Alzheimer’s could be a reality. However, roundtable participants stressed that we cannot pursue preventative treatments whilst concomitantly neglecting our responsibility to improve the quality of life for those living with dementia through investing in care-systems and supporting caregivers.

Given the nature of the challenge posed by Alzheimer’s disease in Europe, it is vital to formulate strategies and initiatives to combat the disease.

With this in mind, delegates of the roundtable put forth the following recommendations:

• Policy makers should urge national governments and local authorities to incorporate national dementia strategies;

• Encourage more comprehensive national action plans and ensure that they translate into positive practical action by setting targets and measuring progress;

• More funding. Consider increasing umbrella funding for brain research, which will undoubtedly positively effect Alzheimer’s funding;

• We must focus on raising awareness as well as early intervention and treatment;

• Hard Brexit would be damaging, we need UK expertise – 70% of our projects are led by UK research – We must have them on board to instigate effective change;

• We cannot succeed working in silos. Coordination and cooperation between clinicians, local authorities and the public and private sectors is imperative. We must also allocate a significant focus on cross border and interdisciplinary collaboration on a global scale. We have the tools to do this;

• A three-pronged approach is necessary to tackle Alzheimer’s disease effectively: Psychosocial preventative care and research, symptomatic care to manage and support individuals with Alzheimer’s, and the development of disease modification treatments. We must think about how to pull-through promising innovations and drug treatments and get them through to patients in the national setting;

• We must pursue new innovations in research but equally remember that we haven’t had a significant breakthrough on this in thirty years. We must, therefore, focus on what we know we can do. We can provide appropriate social care for dementia sufferers and allow individuals to ‘live better with dementia’. Policy makers must acknowledge and retain this balance between optimism and realism;

• Half of people who find out they have a cognitive deficit do not seek further advice. The education component is vital. We must focus on pathways after diagnosis and create better linkages with social care systems;

• We must improve the present and prepare for the future. In the present, we must improve care-systems; focusing on the psychological aspects of dementia care and support care-givers more effectively. With regards to the future, we must explain to policy makers that there may be breakthroughs in the future. We must, therefore, continue to fund research;

• Our GPs are overworked. Should they be able to deal with Alzheimer’s patients, it has to be more time effective. The waiting time for a neurologist in Slovenia, for example, is a year and a half. We either employ more, or make the diagnosis and treatment process more time effective;

• 70% of all care is done within families. It is vital, therfore, that we emphasise the training and support of these caregivers. We must also emphasise the role of men in this capactiy;

• Research is needed in how we support caregivers effectively. We must advocate a focus on the psycho-social implications of Alzheimer’s. We can do this by focusing on mental disorders more broadly as many mental disorders overlap such as Alzheimer’s and depression.

• Education is key. We have made progress reducing the stigma surrounding the disease; however, we must continue to do so. To truly spread Alzheimer’s awareness to all communities, we must engage on a community level; in churches or by holding educational café events;

• We must identify a consistent model for care planning which puts the patient at its heart. Clinicians must be aware of how to effectively involve their patients in their care;

• We need to assess why the research done so far has not yielded more positive results. We must examine the failures and inefficiencies of previous research, and determine how to optimally utilize available funding to conduct research in a more efficient manner

Delegates present at the ICPS Alzheimer’s Europe Roundtable included:

President, Alzheimer Europe Board member, Ligue Alzheimer, Vice-President, Federal Chamber of Psychotherapists, MEP, Alzheimer’s Alliance, European Parliament, Policy Advisor, Flemish Government – Department of Economy, Science and Innovation, Director, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, Professor of Neurology, President, Academic Medical Centre, Health Council of the Netherlands, Head of Sector – Neuroscience,  European Commission, DG Research & Innovation, Head of Neurology, Ljubljana University, Professor of Neurology, Director, University Salpêtrière Hospital, Institute for Memory and Alzheimer Disease, Policy Analyst, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Scientific Development Unit, European Commission, Joint Research Centre.