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Androulla Vassiliou
Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health
Alzheimer's disease: Dimensions and Challenges
Speech during the French Presidency Conference ''The fight against Alzheimer's and Related Diseases''
Paris, 31 October 2008

European Commission - SPEECH/08/575   03/11/2008

Other available languages: none

SPEECH/08/575












Androulla Vassiliou

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health



Alzheimer's disease: Dimensions and Challenges























Speech during the French Presidency Conference ''The fight against Alzheimer's and Related Diseases''
Paris, 31 October 2008

Monsieur le Président de la République,

Mesdames et Messieurs les Ministres,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to participate in this closing Ministerial Round Table. This conference on Alzheimer's disease and other related diseases organised by the French Presidency has been a valuable contribution. I would like to congratulate the French Presidency for their initiative and also express my appreciation and respect to all those who are supporting this event.

Our estimate is that more than 6 million Europeans are affected by different types of dementias. If we consider the fact that in most cases it is families and relatives who are caring for those patients, then we can estimate that more than 19 million people in Europe experience the devastating consequences of dementias every day. They have the right to expect answers and initiatives to help and support them.

Alzheimer’s disease was first described one hundred years ago. But with the increase in life expectancy, especially in developed countries, its incidence has increased dramatically and current forecasts lead us to expect a doubling of the number of persons affected every 20 years.

It is therefore not surprising that the European Parliament has adopted two resolutions on Alzheimer’s disease (earlier in 1996 and 1998). These resolutions underlined the health implications of an ageing population, and the increase in the number of people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. The French Presidency has also placed special emphasis on the importance of this issue, and I am sure that the useful debates during the last two days will provide a useful contribution to our further discussions at the Council.

From the Commission's perspective, we also recognise the importance of the problem associated with dementias in the European Union. The White Paper "Together for Health: A Strategic Approach for the EU 2008-2013" of 23 October 2007 developing the EU Health Strategy underlined this, and identified the better understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's as important needs to address.

And the Commission's action in this area goes back much further. Responding to the European Parliament resolution in 1996, around 30 projects were financed between 1996 and 1998 in order to identify actions and needs in areas such as

  • diagnosis and therapies;
  • information and support to caregivers;
  • end of life support;
  • and counselling in relation to palliative care

to name but a few. I'm glad to be able to say that the European Commission has been acting for more than a decade to put in place actions stressing the European dimension of dementias.

In particular, we have already had a presentation of the conclusions of our European Collaboration on Dementia Project (EUCODE). This excellent project, run by Alzheimer Europe, provides an impressive set of conclusions and recommendations to be implemented by the Commission and the Member States.

If these actions are taken, they will help to:

  • develop better data on prevalence rates of dementia
  • improve risk reduction and prevention strategies;
  • and share best practices on diagnosis and treatment, including non-pharmacological interventions.

In 2006 and 2007, we had the publication of the Dementia Yearbooks as part of the EUCODE project which has also been an important contribution. They underline the different practices on treatment and medication that exist between the Member States. I hope to continue our good cooperation with Alzheimer's patients groups in the future.

The 'Rare forms of dementia' project was also funded by the first Health Programme. Their conclusions demonstrate the link between two priorities for European action: the field of rare diseases and the field of dementias.

The EUCODE and the 'Rare forms of dementia' conclusions are a solid basis for practical actions to be implemented by the European Commission in the future.

I think that it is important to use all available instruments to help address these issues. For example, the European Pact for Mental Health and Well-being, adopted in 2008, includes a particular dimension of 'mental health in older populations'. This pact is a symbol of the determination to exchange and work together on mental health opportunities and challenges.

Of course, Alzheimer's disease and dementias are not themselves mental health disorders as such. Nevertheless, synergies between the ageing perspective of this Pact and action in the field of Alzheimer's disease and dementias can be useful. In particular, in ensuring respectful treatment for people with cognitive impairment as they grow older.

I'm also proud to say that the European Commission supported research on Alzheimer's disease and other dementias since the late '80s, with steadily increasing funding. The 20 million Euros invested in the Fifth Research Programme (1998-2002) increased to 65 million Euros in the Sixth Research Programme (2002-2006). In the Seventh Research Programme, a new area has been reinforced covering issues such as patients' mental health, prevention strategies for healthy ageing, and equality of access to care. The topic "organisation of dementia care" focusing on organisation and financing of prevention, diagnosis, medical treatment and social care for dementia patients is included in the Third Health call of the Seventh Research Programme, published in September 2008.

Social protection and long-term care are the third key area of action on Alzheimer and dementia in general. The conclusions of the Lisbon European Council (March 2000) stressed that social protection systems needed to be reformed in order to be able to continue to provide good quality health services. A recent Report on Long Term Care adopted by the Social Protection Committee (July 2008) under the Open Method of Coordination contains provisions related to Alzheimer's disease as:

  • Tailored community and home care services and integrated long-term care provision: Different patients have disparate and often multiple needs for long-term care services. The assessment of those needs and the provision of the various services must be carried out in a way that respects the choice and dignity of the person in need of care.
  • Workforce shortages and training: Labour supply in these settings is a major preoccupation for Member States, particularly when considering medical, nursing and social care labour shortages. In the home or community care setting, the problem of insufficient and inadequately trained staff is exacerbated by the fact that the bulk of the care provided in that setting tends to be carried out by family or informal caregivers.

These three dimensions, a public health dimension, a research dimension and a social protection dimension converges in actions that should respond to a reality in our societies. The European population is ageing and it is the responsibility of all of us to ensure that people can age with dignity, in good health and receiving same rights that any other population group. Alzheimer's disease and dementias are, unfortunately, a part of this ageing process for a lot of our European citizens. But we can take steps to ensure that the burden that they represent is minimised; they should be prevented, if possible, and they should have the response that they need as a health priority by national, regional, local and European authorities.

European action for ageing in dignity will continue to be a strong priority in the next Czech and Swedish European Council Presidencies. We welcome the priority attached to this important issue by the Council. For the Commission's part, we will build on our many existing actions to continue to address the important issue of ageing and dementia in the years to come.

I believe that no one can remain indifferent to this terrible disease because each and every one of us knows of Alzheimer's cases in their immediate family and friendly environments.

I shall never forget a close friend of mine, a leading political and public figure of my country, who was struck by this misfortune and suffered for seven years, inflicting great pain and suffering to his family. I once met him at an airport terminal, having escaped his wife's attention for a minute and found himself wondering around lost among the crowd.

The same man who would inspire, mobilise and impress the crowd during his public speaking, was now a man lost in the crowd.

We all have a duty to help and support all those millions of patients and their families, suffering from this terrible disease.


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