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Spend on dementia research criticised

Despite the impending epidemic, annual spend on dementia research is $20 million, compared to $160 million for cancer.

The release of the ‘World Alzheimer Report 2010’ in Sydney recently has reinforced the seriousness of the impending dementia epidemic, but it also underscored the need for more dementia research dollars.

The global cost of caring for people with dementia has been forecast at $637 billion this year and there are now 35.6 million people living with dementia globally.

There are 250,000 people with dementia in Australia, 60 per cent of those live in the community.

Yet despite the high cost of care, and escalating numbers affected, the global effort to confront dementia is "reasonably feeble", with a lack of recognition of the scale of the problem and low allocation of research dollars, said Glenn Rees, CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia.

While extra dollars had been had been provided through the Dementia Initiative for research on dementia care, funding for research into the cause of dementia and how it might be prevented was needed, he said.

"The level of dementia research spending in Australia from 2000 to 2007 was tenfold less than cancer and yet the prevalence, disability burden and healthcare costs are all going to be things this century that will greatly impact on the healthcare system. Currently, annual spending through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) on dementia is about $20 million, compared to $160 million on cancer.”

Rees said the NHMRC’s strategic plan for 2010-2012, released in May, was further disappointment. While it included aged care, it didn’t specifically mention dementia.

Further, somewhat bizarrely, because dementia is a ‘national health priority’ but not a ‘national health priority area’, it doesn’t attract the same priority research dollars as other chronic diseases like cancer and asthma, he said.

Rees’ comments echo those of Professor Julian Hughes of the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, who said Australia’s spend on dementia research was ‘disproportionately low’.

“A key test of governments’ willingness to reduce the future numbers of people with dementia and provide better care is funding for dementia research. And on that score they are failing as funding for research into dementia is disproportionately low compared with other chronic conditions,” he said during an Australian speaking tour last June.

Something that is as harmful as dementia requires good quality research, which, in turn, will support and encourage good quality care.

“There is little sign that governments worldwide have grasped the enormity of the impact that dementia will have on the health care system or the everyday ethical issues that need to be addressed in dementia care, including diagnosis, restraint and end-of-life issues.

“Investment in research is a fundamental ethical consideration in the appropriate care of a person with dementia. Organisations, institutions and governments must face up to the dementia challenge, not for mere practical reasons, although these are important, but because this is a human moral necessity,” said Hughes.

“We have argued consistently that 1 per cent of the total direct spend on health and residential care - $5 billion a year – should be spent on dementia research,” said Rees.

“That’s $50 million a year, which is a small price to pay for Australia to contribute to the cause and prevention of dementia, which is our primary focus.”

Dementia is already the third leading cause of death in Australia, behind heart disease and stroke. Primarily owing t

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