Sunday, July 14, 2024

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The Urgency of Addressing Alzheimer’s Disease: Taking Action in the Present


As the population continues to age, it has become evident that healthcare systems in the EU and other countries are not adequately prepared to detect and treat Alzheimer’s disease in a timely manner. This hinders the ability to preserve memory and independence through the use of innovative therapies.

New developments indicate that prompt action could potentially slow down the deterioration of memory in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, making it essential to detect and address the condition as soon as possible. However, without proper healthcare systems in place for diagnosis and treatment, we run the risk of overlooking the crucial early stage and losing the chance to postpone, and hopefully eventually prevent, distressing symptoms for patients and devastating experiences for their loved ones.

The EU and its member nations have a chance to establish a reputation for leading in this area by allocating more resources to research, enhancing healthcare infrastructure for precise diagnosis and prompt intervention, and improving support services at both national and regional levels. The upcoming European Parliament elections in June 2024 provide the perfect opportunity to make this commitment. For individuals, families, and healthcare systems, Alzheimer’s disease is a looming threat that demands investment in our future well-being today.

The European Union is not equipped to handle Alzheimer’s disease.

Around 7 million individuals in Europe are impacted by Alzheimer’s disease, and this figure is expected to increase to 14 million by the year 2050.1

In addition to the physical and emotional suffering it will bring, there are also significant financial and social effects on families and communities. It is estimated that by 2030, the costs of Alzheimer’s disease will reach a staggering €250 billion.2

“Greater than Portugal’s GDP.”3

This is putting even more pressure on healthcare systems around the world that are already struggling with high costs and limited resources.4 

Diagnosing patients in a timely manner is crucial for determining the most effective treatment.

MEP Deirdre Clune is advocating for a European Parliament hearing to address a targeted EU plan for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Clune emphasizes the importance of timely diagnosis in determining proper treatment for patients. She urges the EU to establish a strategic framework that provides clear guidelines for member states and acknowledges the impact of these diseases on societies in Europe. This framework should also promote innovation and incorporate successful methods to develop effective and efficient approaches. With a united effort and strong dedication, the EU can improve care for those with Alzheimer’s.

In the upcoming term of the EU government, leaders must respond to the demand for a thorough EU plan to combat dementia. This plan should specifically target the obstacles presented by Alzheimer’s disease and build upon existing coordinated strategies for other major health concerns, such as the EU’s efforts to fight cancer. The European Brain Council and EFPIA’s publication, “RETHINKING Alzheimer’s disease White Paper,” offers valuable insights and suggests policy actions to bring about tangible improvements in the lives of those affected by the disease.

EU countries need to make a commitment to investing in diagnostic infrastructure, technology, and integrated care to detect Alzheimer’s disease early on. This will lead to timely intervention, preserving memory and allowing for independent living and normal social functioning.

Establishing a solid groundwork at the national level

Although taking action at the EU level is important, there is also great potential for change at the national and regional levels. Each member country has the opportunity to implement well-funded plans specifically for dementia that cater to the unique needs of their population. This can have a significant and positive effect on the individuals and healthcare systems within their country.

Inspiration stems from Italy, which recently launched its Parliamentary Intergroup for Neuroscience and Alzheimer’s, dedicating its efforts to raising awareness, fostering discussions among national and regional institutions, promoting clinician and patient involvement, supporting novel research, implementing new diagnostic models, and strengthening patient access to care. 

Annarita Patriarca, an MP from Italy and co-host of the Parliamentary Intergroup, states that it is the main responsibility of a member state to provide its citizens with the best possible standards of diagnosis and access to treatment and care. This requires a strong partnership between the public and private sectors in order to increase investments in neurological diseases. The main goal of the intergroup will be to improve the diagnostic and care pathways for patients, particularly in areas like AD where there is a high demand for medical treatment and significant societal impact.

Furthermore, at the Alzheimer’s and Neuroscience Conference held in July, Italian Parliament members played a crucial role in proposing laws and regulations to guarantee timely and precise diagnoses.

Taking the lead in global discussions

As Alzheimer’s disease continues to be a significant global issue, it is crucial for policymakers to take responsibility and hold each other accountable. EU member countries have a unique opportunity to do so, both within the EU and in the broader healthcare community. It is important for countries and leaders to uphold their previous commitments to investing in efforts to alleviate major health burdens, such as Alzheimer’s.

The May G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué provided encouraging recognition and support for dementia as its own separate issue, rather than grouping it with other non-communicable diseases. Additionally, the G7 health ministers released a joint statement emphasizing the importance of improving early detection, diagnosis, and treatment for dementia, including developing care plans and strengthening the capabilities and capacities of healthcare providers through primary health care.

The progress being made in addressing Alzheimer’s disease is a positive sign that it is finally receiving the attention it deserves. It also serves as a reminder to not become complacent. The EU must take a strong stance in global discussions and make sure that Alzheimer’s disease continues to be a top priority for healthcare and receives appropriate funding.

It is time to take action in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease.

World Alzheimer’s Month is observed in September and this year’s theme, Never Too Early, Never Too Late, emphasizes the significance of early detection. This provides a vital basis for starting conversations about implementing country- and region-specific plans to enhance diagnostic capabilities and services for preventing, diagnosing, managing, monitoring, and treating Alzheimer’s disease.

If we don’t take action immediately, a whole group of individuals will be neglected as they start to experience memory loss.

If we don’t take action immediately, a whole generation will be neglected as they start to lose their memories. Frédéric Destrebecq, the executive director of The European Brain Council, stresses the importance of acknowledging the urgency of the situation and investing in solutions. This will lead us towards a more empathetic and empowered future for those affected by Alzheimer’s, and we can also honor the memory of those who have succumbed to this destructive illness.

It’s never too early or too late to be recognized for taking action against this debilitating illness.

References:  

1 – Jones RW, Mackell J, Berthet K, Knox S. Assessing attitudes and behaviours surrounding Alzheimer’s disease in Europe: key findings of the Important Perspectives on Alzheimer’s Care and Treatment (IMPACT) survey. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. 2010 Aug;14:525-30.  

The study conducted by Cimler R, Maresova P, Kuhnova J, and Kuca K aimed to estimate the expenses for treatment and care of Alzheimer’s disease in various European countries. The results were published in the journal PLoS One on January 25, 2019. The study predicts that the costs associated with Alzheimer’s disease will continue to rise.

The Statista Research Department published data on the GDP of European countries for the year 2022 on June 20, 2023. The information can be accessed through the Statista website and was last retrieved on August 1, 2023.

In an article titled “Why Health-Care Services are in Chaos Everywhere,” The Economist discusses the current state of chaos in healthcare systems worldwide. The article, published on January 15, 2023, explores the reasons behind this chaos and is available at the following link: https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2023/01/15/why-health-care-services-are-in-chaos-everywhere. It was accessed in July 2023.