A G8 summit on dementia was held at Lancaster House in London on 11 December 2013. The summit, the first of its kind, was arranged in response to growing concern about the challenge of the global impact of dementia. Martin Hodgson reports.

The summit involved G8 Ministers, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and health experts from the European Commission and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The scale of the problem

Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) estimates that, as of 2013, there were an estimated 44.4 million people with dementia worldwide. The WHO predicts that numbers will nearly double every two decades, which means that this will increase to an estimated 75.6 million in 2030, and 135.5 million in 2050.

Altogether, one in three people over 65 will develop dementia. Of those with dementia, 62% live in developing countries and by 2050 this will rise to 71% as the Earth’s population ages — the majority in countries such as China, India and southern Asia.

In the UK, 800,000 people currently have a form of dementia. This is estimated to rise to one million within 10 years and to 1.7 million by 2051.

Quite apart from the human misery of the condition, the huge cost of caring for so many people with dementia will be difficult to sustain.

The ADI estimates the worldwide cost of dementia in 2010 to be US$604 billion, 70% of which relates to care in Western Europe and North America. The ADI predicts an 85% increase in costs by 2030, with costs in low- and middle-income countries rising faster than in high-income countries.

The World Alzheimer Report 2013, Journey of Caring: An Analysis of Long-term Care for Dementia, reveals that, as the world population ages, traditional systems of “informal” care by family, friends, and community will require much greater support. It recommends that governments around the world make dementia a priority by implementing national plans, and by initiating urgent national debates on future arrangements for long-term care.

Decisions

The G8 countries attending the summit agreed to the following actions:

  • to set an ambition to identify a cure or a disease-modifying therapy for dementia by 2025

  • to appoint a Global Envoy for Dementia Innovation, following on from global envoys on HIV and Aids and on climate change

The drive towards a cure or new treatments will be supported by greater investment in research. However, the summit concluded that merely increasing spending would not be enough and that an international action plan would be developed to:

  • focus research where it is needed

  • encourage access to publicly-funded dementia research to make data and results available for further research as quickly as possible

  • enable G8 countries to work together to fill the gaps and opportunities in dementia research.

The newly-formed UK Dementia Platform, the world’s largest research collaboration into dementia, is expected to make an important contribution by bringing together researchers and scientists.

The Global Envoy will co-ordinate international efforts to attract new sources of finance, including exploring the possibility of a new private and philanthropic fund to support global dementia innovation.

Beyond these measures the summit served as a rallying call that the world should not accept dementia as a “side-effect” of growing old, but should instead work together to defeat it.

Responses

Dr Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General, said: “The WHO warmly welcomes the aims and outcomes of this summit, with its groundbreaking proposals to stimulate research and development to catch up with a runaway human tragedy.

“The WHO’s priority will be to help countries, especially in the developing world, cope with their rapidly ageing populations and escalating numbers of people with dementia.”

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re in London or Los Angeles, in rural India or urban Japan — dementia steals lives, it wrecks families, it breaks hearts and that is why all of us here are so utterly determined to beat it.

“In generations past, the world came together to take on the great killers. We stood against malaria, cancer, HIV and Aids and we are just as resolute today. I want 11 December 2013 to go down as the day that the global fight-back began.”

Alzheimer’s Disease International welcomed the initiatives emerging from the summit and called on all governments to develop a national dementia strategy, warning that without a plan nations risked crippling their healthcare systems. It stated: “Policymakers and health professionals should continue to consult people with dementia and their carers on all aspects of the dementia journey, ensuring people with dementia worldwide have a voice and are able to live with dignity and respect.”

Next steps

At the conclusion of the summit it was announced that the G8 countries will come together again throughout 2014 to build on the commitments they made in London.

In March 2014, the UK will hold an event on increasing investment and finance in innovative care. This will be followed by an event in Japan on what new care and prevention models could look like and an event hosted by Canada and France on industry partnerships between academia and industry.

It is proposed that the G8 countries will meet again in the USA in February 2015 with other global experts, including the WHO and the OECD, to review progress.

UK progress on dementia

The summit builds on a series of recent dementia initiatives in the UK.

The Alzheimer’s Society has launched a campaign that aims to inspire thousands of people to become “Dementia Friends Champions” by 2015. A Dementia Friends Champion is a volunteer who encourages others to make a positive difference to people living with dementia in his or her community.

The dementia challenge, launched in March 2012 by the Prime Minister, is a programme of work designed to build on progress made through the National Dementia Strategy and help tackle the growing problem of dementia in modern society. According to the scheme, three dementia challenge champion groups were set up to focus on the main areas for action:

  • driving improvements in health and care

  • creating dementia-friendly communities

  • improving dementia research.

Initiatives have included bids for prize funds for redesigning dementia services around patients and for designing and developing dementia-friendly environments. The latter are intended to enable buildings like hospitals and care homes to be designed in such a way that they are more supportive for people with dementia.

Linked to the dementia champions and new dementia advisors, most local authorities are building on this work to make their towns and communities more supportive and usable for people with dementia and their families. This includes the assessment and provision of advanced telecare equipment and support services.

Last reviewed 5 March 2014