“In generations past, the world came together to take on the great killers,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron in London at the first-ever G8 Dementia Summit late last year. “We have stood against malaria, cancer, HIV, and AIDS—and we are just as resolute today. I want December 11, 2013, to go down as the day that the global fight [against Alzheimer's disease and dementia] began.”
An editorial in Britain's iconic national newspaper, The Guardian, noted that “the first G8 Dementia Summit managed to produce some eye-catching rhetoric, but as the dust settles, the real task is turning those words into meaningful action.” But Cameron did more than make a declaration; he also stated that the Medical Research Council of Great Britain would spend £150 million ($245 million) more in new funding on the fight against Alzheimer's disease (AD).
Currently, AD and dementia affect approximately 36 million people globally; by 2050, they may affect 115 million. Other causes of dementia include frontotemporal degeneration, vascular disease, and Parkinson's disease. (For more Neurology Now coverage of AD and dementia, go to bit.ly/IQiH4U.) Aside from the devastating emotional costs of these conditions, the monetary cost worldwide exceeds $600 billion according to World Alzheimer Report 2010: The Global Economic Impact of Dementia from Alzheimer's Disease International.
Experts agree that meeting the global threat of dementia will require a great deal of money—but that the cost of doing nothing will be exponentially higher. “By the middle of this century, if nothing is done, we'll have three times the number of people with AD—and that by itself could bankrupt the U.S. healthcare system,” says Ronald C. Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., Cadieux director of the Mayo Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging in Rochester, MN, and member of the American Academy of Neurology. “We cannot afford to say we'll increase funding for research when we have the luxury to do so. The cost to individuals, families, and societies is catastrophic now, so it's either pay now or pay later.”
Dr. Petersen, who attended the G8, says countries must commit “substantial resources” to meeting the challenge of AD and dementia. “Ideally, they should spend 1 percent of what's currently spent on their treatment and care of AD patients. In the United States, that percentage of the nearly $200 billion we spend would be $2 billion for research. Yet we spend only $500 million on AD research.” In comparison, the National Cancer Institute has spent an average of $4.9 billion per year on cancer research for the past six years, while the National Institutes of Health has invested about $2.2 billion on heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
The recently-passed omnibus budget bill allocates $122 million annually for AD research and care in the U.S. “That's a huge statement in times of fiscal austerity,” says Dr. Petersen. “When we add that to the $500 million allocated right now, it's a 20 percent increase, but it's still considerably short of the $2 billion that was called for in the annual budget for National Institutes of Health research funding recommended for AD.”
G8 Summit representatives came from the United States, the U.K., Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, and Japan. Speakers included Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health in the U.K.; Margaret Chan, M.D., director general of the World Health Organization (WHO); Yves Leterme, deputy secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); and patient/advocate Peter Dunlop, diagnosed with dementia.
Topics included improving life and care for people affected by dementia and their caregivers and ways to prevent and delay dementia.
As proof that the health ministers intended to shape an effective international response to dementia, an official post-summit announcement specified agenda items for follow-up.
“Very concrete commitments were made,” says attendee George Vradenburg, co-founder and chairman of the nonprofit USAgainstAlzheimer's, based in Washington, D.C. These include collectively raising public sector funding of research, coordinating an international research plan, reviewing national incentive systems to encourage industry to continue to invest, and implementing a global exchange of best practices on how to care for people with dementia.
“When the world pulls together, we can accomplish miracles,” says Vradenburg, who characterized the London summit as “very powerful.”
People around the world waited to hear the outcome of the G8 Summit. “While news from the summit comes too late to help me—my father passed away with AD 10 years ago—it is an important step,” says Rick Lauber, patient advocate and author of The Caregiver's Guide for Canadians, who did not attend. “AD robbed me of my father and my father of his memories. I know many others can relate to this experience. If a cure for dementia isn't found, millions more will soon face the heavy physical, mental, emotional, and financial impacts of caring for someone with dementia. This is not an easy road to travel.”
A series of high-level meetings will be held this year to focus on new care and prevention models and academia-industry partnerships. Participants will include representatives of the OECD, WHO, and the European Commission and European Union Joint Programme–Neurodegenerative Disease Research initiative, among others.
Representatives of the G8 Dementia Summit will reconvene in the U.S. in February 2015 with other global experts to review what should be measurable progress since London.
“We are on a road now, and we have a plan,” says Dr. Petersen.