By Martin Banks - 22nd September 2011
Unfortunately, there is currently insufficient money being spent
A debate was told that cases of dementia are expected to double over the next 20 years.
The mini-conference, jointly organised by the Parliament Magazine, heard that the cost of treating the disease to the EU and member states is some €160bn.
Dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, affects an estimated 7.3 million people in Europe and, after cancer, is the health issue which most concerns the public.
Even so, the debate heard that dementia remains something of a poor relation when it comes to funding and cooperation and that the burden on the people who care for sufferers is "very substantial".
The mood among most of the participants was summed up by Enda Connolly, of the Irish health research board, who described Alzheimer's as "one of the biggest health challenges" facing the EU and its member states.
He added, "Unfortunately, there is currently insufficient money being spent to address the very pressing issue."
The debate, "Facing the Future," and held in association with Sanofi, took place on Wednesday, which was designated "World Alzheimer's Day."
The first session looked at European collaboration on dementia while the second focused on what needs to be done to address the predicted doubling in dementia cases over the next 20 years.
Opening the two-hour debate, Belgian MEP Frédérique Ries, a member of the European Alzheimer's alliance, pointed to a parliamentary resolution, adopted by MEPs in January this year, which demands "more action, research and coordination" into the disease.
She said the number of sufferers in Europe, including 150,000 in Belgium alone, was "almost certainly" an underestimate as many cases remain undiagnosed.
"There is hope for the future and one day I hope a cure can be found but this is most probably many years away yet," said Ries.
Her comments were echoed by Martin Seychell, deputy director general for health and consumers at the European commission, who estimates that as many as 19 million people in Europe are currently affected, directly or indirectly, by Alzheimer's.
He said, "Unfortunately, Alzheimer's is a part of the ageing process and what we need is a better understanding of the disease, to raise its profile and earlier diagnosis. We are making progress on these things but there is still a long way to go."
Representing the Polish EU council presidency, Filip Domanski, health attaché at the Polish permanent representation in Brussels, reassured participants that dementia "will remain a priority" during his country's six-month term in office.
Closing the debate, Jean Georges, executive director of Alzheimer Europe, pointed to a survey showing that one third of respondents said they know someone who suffers from dementia.
"It is also a very costly disease," he said, adding, "In 2008, it was estimated that the cost to the EU is €160bn, of which 60 per cent goes on the provision of informal care."
He added, "It is not surprising, then, that people are becoming increasingly concerned about this disease.
"While we are currently seeing national budgets are being cut back ,I hope we can look back in 20 years and say that this vulnerable group of people were not overlooked."