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Roberta Angelilli (Italy)

MEPs speak out on dementia

In February 2013, Roberta Angelilli, MEP (Italy) and Rapporteur for the European Parliament report “The prevention of age-related diseases of women” spoke with Alzheimer Europe about the new publication.

Alzheimer Europe (AE): As you know, neurodegenerative diseases like dementia affect more women than men: in Europe, over seven million people have dementia, close to five million being women and over two million being men. With the ageing of the population, these figures will dramatically increase in the future. What do you think should be done to raise awareness about dementia in Europe?

Roberta Angelilli (RA): Population ageing is one of the main challenges facing Europe: the age group over 65 accounts for more than 87 million people in the EU27, of which 50.6 million are women.

Despite increased longevity, older women tend to have a significantly higher incidence of debilitating diseases, including neurodegenerative diseases, and experience the development of progressive
disability more than men of the same age.

Age is indeed a risk factor for the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (the most common type of dementia).

Dementia is more common in the over-65s: it affects about 1 person in 20 over 65, 1 in 5 over 80, and 1 in 3 over 90. Over 7.3 million people in Europe suffer from dementia; recent studies (e.g. Alzheimer Europe's EuroCoDe project) suggest that the prevalence of dementia is higher in women than in men, particularly in the over 85 age group.

Unfortunately stigma and lack of awareness about neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia lead to delayed diagnosis and a poor treatment outcome.

Information and prevention, accompanied by research, are key elements for a strategy which should involve all policy-makers, in particular national and European institutions, industry associations, media and local authorities. The aim should be the dissemination of strategies in terms of prevention in order to promote behaviour which is conducive to healthy and active ageing and good health for all.

The societal cost of dementia is high. Therefore, measures to improve prevention and early detection of the diseases need to be accompanied by an improvement in the sustainability and efficiency of social and health care systems.

The EU and the Member States should adopt a holistic and gender-sensitive approach to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia in order to improve the quality of life and dignity of patients and their families.

AE: When talking about age-related disease, one often thinks of diseases affecting elderly people. However, neurodegenerative diseases like dementia also affect young people. How would you see EU health policy embrace this challenge?

RA: Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia may also develop in young people.

The emotional impact of developing a dementia at a younger age is significant and has a dramatic effect on life expectations as well as on families. Dementia is indeed devastating, not only for the patients themselves but also for their relatives and carers, due to the strong emotional, physical and financial impact of this disease.

Younger people with dementia have specific and different needs. So, access to diagnostic services, research and care, support and accommodation should be improved for young people with dementia with the aim of maintaining a high quality of life. While respecting the principle of subsidiarity the European Union can continue all its efforts to promote a preventive health policy in relation
to its interaction with cardiovascular illnesses, mental health, physical activity, education in the field of health and new technologies.

Prevention starts during youth, according to a general approach to a lifelong health: There are well-known preventative factors such as a healthy diet (i.e. the consumption of specific vitamins and anti-oxidants), promoting physical and cognitive activity and controlling cardiovascular risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, hypertension, overweight and obesity, alcohol
abuse and smoking (both active and passive). Specific awareness campaigns targeting young people should be implemented at both European and national levels.

Although Alzheimer’s disease continues to appear on policy agendas in the Member States, it is necessary to close the disparities between, and even within, Member States. Further, it is necessary to address shortcomings both in terms of staff training and qualifications and the lack of equipment needed for diagnosis and research. Unfortunately the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease often takes place years after the onset of the disease, thus delaying any possible treatment to slow down the disease.

AE: Age-related diseases can often be prevented with a healthy lifestyle and reversed through treatment. So far, no clear preventative measures have been identified to avoid dementia and no cure exists. In your opinion, how could Horizon 2020 and the next Health Framework Programme support the prevention and cure of unpreventable and disabling age-related diseases like dementia in women?

RA: A key answer to the big challenge of population ageing can certainly be found in science and research. One point to be underlined is the fact that most of the research effort in the field of neurodegenerative diseases is carried out by Member States, with a relatively low level of transnational coordination.

Different forms of dementia are being studied from multiple perspectives and in different areas of research. This may contribute to a further fragmentation of research activities and a limited sharing of knowledge and best practices among Member States.

A European response would help to overcome these issues and would better address the complexity of the challenge and the interdependency of its components. This could be done by conducting large-scale epidemiological and clinical studies in transnational collaboration, and by pooling the critical mass of skills, knowledge and financial resources.

In this sense the new EU Research programme, Horizon 2020, and the Health for Growth programme may lead to important achievements.

But it is important to underline the need for a gender-related approach to health both in understanding the determinants of health and in optimising the effectiveness of healthcare systems. Women and men are subject to specific illnesses and health risks which must be suitably taken into account with regard to medical research and health services.

It is essential to strengthen significantly cooperation and coordination of innovative and multidisciplinary gender related clinical research efforts into the causes, prevention and treatment of
neurodegenerative diseases.

This includes organising specific training courses for general practitioners and mental health professionals - including doctors, psychologists, and nurses - on the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, paying specific attention to the additional challenges faced by older women.

 

 
 

Last Updated: Monday 15 September 2014

 

 
 

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