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Alzheimer’s and other dementias: European initiative
One of the consequences of the ageing European population is the increase in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. These diseases represent a high cost for society, which can be attenuated by joint European action.
Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 22 July 2009 on a European initiative on Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias [COM(2009) 380 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
This Communication lays down milestones for a European initiative on Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Dementia is a neurodegenerative disease which affects mental ability such as memory, thinking and judgement, even causing a deterioration in personality.
The most common types of dementia are:
- Alzheimer’s disease (50 to 70 % of cases);
- dementia caused by successive strokes (30 % of cases);
- Frontotemporal dementia;
- Pick’s disease
- Binswanger’s disease;
- Lewy-Body dementia.
Obstacles hindering the introduction of a European initiative to combat forms of dementia involve:
- the lack of prevention and early diagnosis of the disease;
- the lack of epidemiological data which limits understanding of the mechanisms of the disease;
- the lack of exchanges of good practices between Member States;
- the image and negative impact of the disease on the population.
First objective: prevention and early diagnosis of the disease
Preventing the disease or making an early diagnosis can delay the development of the disease. However, these risk factors are not the same according to the different forms of dementia. It is, for example, easier to detect vascular dementia than Alzheimer’s disease since risk factors for vascular dementia are already well known:
- high blood pressure;
- high cholesterol levels;
Member States already have avenues to explore regarding the development of effective prevention of the disease. In particular:
- the promotion and stimulation of physical and mental activities throughout life;
- the control of the vascular risk factors mentioned above.
In order to meet this objective of prevention and early diagnosis, Member States shall put in place the following actions:
- promote cardiovascular health and physical activity;
- produce recommendations to inform the public;
- include older people in a flexible retirement regime to allow them to remain active.
Second objective: to improve epidemiological knowledge
The European Commission proposes to collect data on the impact of these diseases through the “European Collaboration on Dementia (EuroCoDe)” project. The framework of the “Health” programme may also be used to prepare new criteria for early diagnosis. The Seventh Framework Programme for research and technological development (FP7) may also offer an effective research framework for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
It is also necessary to harmonise existing research frameworks both at European and national level in order to prepare coherent policies. To this end, actions include:
- using the European Health Examination Survey to provide new Europe-wide data on the prevalence of people with early cognitive deficiencies;
- launching a pilot Joint Programming approach to combat neurodegenerative diseases.
Third objective: exchange of good practices
Exchange of good practices may take place through the Open Method of Coordination (OMC) for social protection, social inclusion and long-term care. Moreover, the Commission may provide information on how ongoing Community programmes can finance these exchanges.
The OMC can help to define quality frameworks for medical and care services for people affected by the disease.
The European Union Disability Action Plan 2003-2010 (DAP) can also be used to support patients' organisations.
Fourth objective: to respect patients’ rights
The Commission intends to establish a European Network for the protection of the rights and dignity of people with dementia. This Network would be responsible for working on issues related to the dignity, autonomy and social inclusion of patients.
7.3 million Europeans between 30 and 99 years of age were suffering from dementia in 2006. According to the “Dementia in Europe Yearbook” report (2008) , the total direct and informal care costs of the disease amounted to EUR 130 billion for the European Union in 2005. Coordinated action at European level would reduce these figures and combat this major health problem.
- Health & Consumers Directorate-General - Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias