Australian experts have joined their international counterparts in calling on the G8 governments to support research into dementia prevention.
Co-directors of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at UNSW Medicine, Professors Perminder Sachdev and Henry Brodaty, joined a group of 111 international scientific and medical dementia experts from 36 countries in issuing a statement to the G8 dementia summit saying that effectively tackling known risk factors for dementia could prevent up to one-fifth of new cases by 2025.
The experts called on governments to support more research into prevention, which they said was a powerful additional approach to the development of drugs for treating dementia. The statement, released on Tuesday, called on the governments of the G8 countries to make prevention of dementia one of their major health aims.
With no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, the most common dementia, and with drugs only relieving symptoms, the statement proposed that a concerted effort be made to discover modifiable risk factors for dementia and to exploit those already identified.
“International collaboration on large-scale clinical trials is necessary to test whether modifying risk factors will lead to prevention of dementia,” said Professor Perminder Sachdev. “Encouraging data has emerged from Denmark, Sweden, UK, Netherlands and China to suggest that dementia is already being pushed back in the very old, and people now in their 90s are healthier than they were a decade or two earlier. We need similar data in Australia.”
The statement to the G8 called for increased focus on public health policy that encouraged middle-aged people to adopt a healthy lifestyle to ward off dementia in the same way it does for other diseases.
According to current estimates, about half of Alzheimer disease cases worldwide might be attributed to known risk factors. Taking immediate action on the known risk factors would not only prevent a lot of human suffering but would also save huge sums of money, the experts said.
“The worldwide costs of dementia in 2010 have been estimated to be $604 billion, most of it in G8 countries,” said Professor Henry Brodaty.
If dementia were a country, it would be the world’s 18th largest economy and as a business it would be the largest global enterprise.
Professor Brodaty said that dementia research continued to be “grossly and disproportionately underfunded” when its prevalence, disability burden and costs were factored in. “Australia has a unique opportunity as the incoming president of the G20 to extend the G8 initiative in dementia prevention. The Australian Government, which has already committed $200 million over five years for dementia research, can lead the way in implementation of prevention and other research findings,” he said.