Brussels, 22 July 2009
Questions and answers on Alzheimer's disease and other dementias
What is the purpose of the Communication on Alzheimer's disease and other dementias?
The objective of this Communication is to set out actions providing support to Member States in ensuring effective and efficient recognition, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care, and research for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias in Europe. This will, in turn, contribute to the overarching goal - an improvement in health outcomes, and therefore a growth in Healthy Life Years, a key Lisbon Strategy indicator. The primary responsibility for tackling dementias lies with the Member States. However, in the area of health under Article 152 of the Treaty, the Community is to encourage cooperation between the Member States and if necessary to lend support to their action. The specific characteristics of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias single them out as a domain of potential European added value.
In which areas will this European initiative add value?
Acting early to diagnose dementia and to reduce the risk of dementia in the first place. For example, through incorporating a 'dementia dimension' into health promotion activities or to produce recommendations on a 'healthy brain lifestyle' for citizens. Earlier diagnosis and intervention can help to delay the need for institutional care, improving quality of life for people with dementia and reducing costs. The Commission will also help to develop early, accurate diagnosis tools that will allow best use to be made of existing treatments.
Improving research coordination between Member States through inviting Member States to work together on a common strategic research agenda, reducing fragmentation and duplication of efforts to better understand the causes and possible treatments of dementia.
Sharing best practices on early diagnosis, treatment and care, including on how to finance care for people with dementia, can help to improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of care for people with dementia across Europe.
Promoting common reflection on rights, autonomy, and dignity of patients. Caring for people whose cognitive abilities are becoming affected by dementia raises difficult questions, over which laws and practices vary widely throughout the EU.
What is the background of this Commission proposal?
The importance of these conditions has long been recognised at European level, not only by the Commission but also by the European Parliament and the Council. Action has included: European Parliament Resolutions in 1996 and 1998, accompanied by budgetary provision for specific projects in this area. The White Paper “Together for Health: A Strategic Approach for the EU 2008-2013” of 23 October 2007 (COM(2007) 630 final) outlining the EU Health Strategy identifies the need for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's to be better understood in the context of demographic ageing. Most recently, the Council has adopted two sets of Conclusions on combating neurodegenerative diseases and particularly Alzheimer's disease, including calling for action by the Commission.
What else is being done at EU level to combat Alzheimer's disease and dementias?
A proposal for a Council Recommendation for Joint Programming of research in the field neurodegenerative disease, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia has also been adopted today which will increase the focus on research in this field.
Under the EU Public health programme, the Commission financed the “European Collaboration on Dementia (EuroCoDe)” project. Alzheimer Europe carried out an extensive survey of its members to highlight any inequalities within the European Union with regard to the access of people with Alzheimer’s disease to existing treatments and support systems. This showed great variation within the European Union on how patients with Alzheimer's are treated and cared for.
The Commission continues to build on the work carried out in the EuroCoDe project to develop more comparable data by age. In particular, the Commission will develop actions under the Health Programme on better prevalence data and on cohort studies of patients or on subjects at risk as part of a longitudinal follow-up necessary for the detection of risk factors, intervention projects on the same factors, and validation of new criteria for early diagnosis. In the future, the planned European Health Examination Survey (EHES) will also be able to provide valuable information through its cognitive test module, providing data with a strong predictive value on the evolution of this problem.
The Commission cooperates with Alzheimer's Europe, the main platform of EU patient's organisations, as well as with Alzheimer's Diseases International (ADI) and with European Alzheimer's Alliance.
The Commission intends to launch a Joint Action with Member States for action against dementias in 2010. This initiative would bring an EU-wide commitment to take concrete actions to prevent and control dementias and, if possible, contribute to reducing inequalities in tackling dementias. It aims to support the Member States in their efforts to tackle dementias by providing a framework for identifying and sharing information, capacity and expertise in dementia prevention and early detection, and by engaging relevant stakeholders across the European Union in a collective effort.
Further actions will be supported within the scope of currently available programmes and resources, in particular through the current Health Programme and the Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development.
Where can I find out more?
More information can be found at the Commission's Health and Consumers Directorate-General website, which includes a special section on Alzheimer's disease and dementias:
See also IP/09/1171, MEMO/09/346 and MEMO/09/347