Dementia in Europe: planning for our future

Helmut Brand 600 x 600 DPI (1)Today's blog comes from Helmut Brand, President of the International Health Forum Gastein. Lilly was pleased to attend the 2016 European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) this September, which had as it’s theme: “Demographics and Diveristy – new solutions for health”.


Why was “demographic change” the major theme of the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) this year?

Demographic change is our current reality, but it is also set to remain a challenge for decades to come. As people get older they are more susceptible to illness, and may live with chronic diseases, like cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease, for many years. This presents a two-fold burden on public spending— fewer people in the workforce and greater costs to health systems.

The slow mounting of ageing populations in Europe is something we saw coming. At EHFG, we wanted to ask: Are we prepared to meet the challenge? Could ageing populations actually be an opportunity for Europe, rather than a burden? 

From a public health perspective, what steps should EU countries take in the next 12 months to respond to the rising numbers of dementia cases?

European governments need to lay the ground for policies that promote health through the life-course. We need to do more work upstream to prevent and delay the onset of dementia, encouraging people to personally invest in their health in younger years to reap the benefits later.

We still have a lot to learn about the best way to care for people living with dementia. There are many encouraging treatments on the way, as well as a number of new care models that are showing promise. As we explore these options, we must be sure that the patient is at the centre of decision making. How else can we be sure all these new approaches truly make a difference in people’s lives?

As is the case with many chronic diseases but particularly dementia, we need to better align European health and social policies to care for dementia patients. The level of long-term and informal care needed for people struggling with dementia necessitates that we are able to draw upon public health and welfare services and budgets— today, these services are too siloed.

In your contribution to the Lancet report, “Defeating Alzheimer's disease and other dementias”, you mention that things can sometimes be lost in translation between researchers and policymakers. Is this the case for dementia?

Despite impressive efforts in the past decades to understand the mechanisms that trigger dementia, there is certainly a gap between the knowledge gained and it is used in practice.

It is a two-way street: researchers need to be better at communicating their results to policymakers and to the general public, and policymakers need to be more attentive to the evolving landscape of science.

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