Alzheimer Europe (AE) held its 25th Annual Conference in Ljubljana on 2-4 September 2015 together with Spominčica - Alzheimer Slovenia (Spominčica). This year’s motto was “Dementia: putting strategies and research into practice” and the event attracted over 570 delegates, including 26 people with dementia.
The programme included some 150 speakers and 140 poster presentations - including a competition for the best posters. The conference was also an opportunity to celebrate AE’s 25th anniversary and to look back on the achievements of the organisation. This year’s event was organised under the Honorary Patronage of Mr Borut Pahor, President of the Republic of Slovenia and dedicated to the memory of Dr Aleš Kogoj, founder of Spominčica in 1997 and a dementia pioneer in Slovenia.
The opening ceremony began with welcome speeches by Heike von Lützau-Hohlbein and Štefanija Lukič Zlobec, the respective Chairs of AE and Spominčica. Helga Rohra, Chairperson of the European Working Group of People with Dementia (EWGPWD), gave a special welcome to delegates with dementia and also thanked the Life Changes Trust, which sponsored the travel expenses of numerous people with dementia and their carers. She was followed by Slovenian officials Anja Kopac (Minister for Social Affairs), Milojka Kolar Celarc (Minister of Health) and Bojana Mursic (Vice-Chair of the National Assembly). They also had warm greetings and added their wishes for a highly successful and productive conference, which would surely help to raise awareness of dementia in Slovenia. The ceremony’s keynote lecture was delivered by Jean Georges, Executive Director of AE, who spoke about the association’s 25 years of activities and achievements.
On the following day, the first plenary session was chaired by Dr Charles Scerri, General Secretary of the Malta Dementia Society, with a focus on putting research into practice. Prof. Bengt Winblad, Director of the Center for Alzheimer Research at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, presented new treatment strategies for dementia and outlined lessons learnt from past failures and perspectives for the future. He was followed by Dr Florence Pasquier, Professor of Neurology at the University Hospital of Lille (France), who spoke about improving the timely diagnosis and providing adequate support to people with early memory complaints. Dr Simon Lovestone, Professor of Translational Neuroscience at Oxford University, demonstrated the growing role of “big data” and public-private consortia in current dementia research. Finally, Prof. Zvezdan Pirtošek, Head of the Department of Neurology at University Medical Centre Ljubljana, gave a very informative and entertaining presentation on the myths, wishes and realities of dementia prevention.
The second plenary session was chaired by Dr Scerri, who is also the Honorary Secretary of Alzheimer Europe and focused on dementia strategies and policies. Geoff Huggins, Acting Director for Health and Social Care Integration in the Scottish Government, presented the new EU Joint Action on Dementia. The three year project will build on the outcomes of ALCOVE, promoting the implementation of actions to improve the situation of people with dementia and their carers. Peter Volasko, the main national coordinator for Horizon 2020 projects in Slovenia, reported on the positive impact of the nation’s participation in the Joint Programme on Neurodegenerative Diseases Research (JPND). He pointed out that this work is stimulating the Ministry of Health to develop a national strategy to address neurodegenerative diseases. Alv Orheim, who is living with dementia in Norway, gave an inspirational talk about changing the perceptions and image of dementia. Mr Orheim noted that the primary sources of information for people with dementia are those people who are directly affected by it and also highlighted the importance of staying physically active. His advice was to “never hide your condition; stand on your feet and tell everyone who you are and how you are.” The last speaker was Mark Pearson, Deputy Director, Employment Labour and Social Affairs at OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). Mr Pearson presented the OECD’s approach to comparing and benchmarking dementia care.
Plenary session three, “Dementia-friendly society”, was chaired by Prof. Pirtošek. The first speaker was Bob Woods, Professor of Clinical Psychology of Older People at Bangor University (Wales), who examined the effects of arts programmes for people with dementia. Agnes Houston, Vice-Chairperson of the EWGPWD, presented “People with dementia as partners” and cited numerous examples from the activities of the Scottish Dementia Working Group, of which she is the former Chair. Jeremy Hughes, CEO of Alzheimer's Society (UK), gave an overview of the Dementia Friends campaign, which is proving to be a vital element for the development of a dementia-friendly society in the UK. Finally, Dr Nena Kopčavar Guček, Assistant Professor at the University of Ljubljana’s Medical School, presented the conclusions of various case studies of age and dementia as risk factors for domestic violence.
The final plenary session was chaired by Ms von Lützau-Hohlbein with a focus on innovation and care. Dr Mary McCarron, Professor of Ageing and Intellectual Disability at Trinity College Dublin, presented new aspects of meeting the needs of people with intellectual disability and dementia. Ms Paivi Topo, Adjunct Professor in Sociology and Social Gerontology at The Age Institute in Helsinki, provided ethical insights on the increasing use of technology to assist people with dementia. She was followed by psychologist Vid Vodusek, PhD, who gave a presentation about managing and preventing behavioural and psychological symptoms in dementia. Mr Frans Hoogeveen, Associate Professor of Psychogeriatrics at The Hague University of Applied Sciences (Netherlands), was the last plenary speaker. He gave a very moving talk on the constant taboo of sexuality and intimacy among people with dementia and also showed real-life examples of families and carers that have faced these situations.
Conference delegates were also able to attend 21 parallel sessions about legal, ethical and scientific aspects of living with dementia, and three sessions featuring Slovenian dementia experts. In addition, three special symposia focused on the EPAD (European Prevention of Alzheimer’s dementia) project, the INTERDEM research group and the activities of the EWGPWD.
The conference ended with an invitation by Nis Peter Nissen from Alzheimer foreningen (Denmark’s Alzheimer association) to attend the 26th Alzheimer Europe Conference in Copenhagen next year. This was followed by closing remarks from Ms Lukič Zlobec and Ms von Lützau-Hohlbein.
Last Updated: Monday 05 October 2015