Figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) have revealed that dementia is now one of the leading causes of death worldwide, with the condition ranked the third biggest killer in Europe and the Americas and seventh in the world overall. Furthermore, in the past two decades, the greatest increase in female deaths has been from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, with nearly a threefold increase.
In response to the news, Alzheimer's Research UK has warned that while the figures are shocking, the number of deaths from dementia will continue to soar without life-changing treatments. The charity is calling on the government to make good on its 2019 election pledge to double its investment in dementia research to over £160m a year.
Susan Mitchell, Head of Policy at Alzheimer's Research UK, says: “While it comes as no surprise dementia is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, it will understandably be frightening for everyone affected by this devastating condition. This news must act as a catalyst for change, because without life-changing treatments the number of people dying from dementia will tragically continue to soar.
“The only way to save people from dementia is by investing in research to find treatments to slow, stop or prevent the diseases that cause the condition. This responsibility falls on all us and we must work globally – with governments, industry and charities like Alzheimer's Research UK – to bring about the breakthroughs so desperately needed. It is what people living with dementia today, and those who will develop it in the future, deserve.”
Since the election promise there have been no further commitments made publicly and no strategy outlined for investment. Furthermore, there was no mention of extra funding for dementia research in the recent Spending Review.
While the government has rightly prioritised efforts to combat COVID-19, Alzheimer’s Research UK points out that the pandemic has highlighted that greater investment in dementia research is needed now more than ever. COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on people with dementia. A quarter of those who have died from COVID-19 in England and Wales also had dementia.
In total, there are almost one million people in the UK living with dementia today. Despite this, there is no treatment to slow, stop or prevent the disease. Alzheimer’s Research UK has a mission to bring about the first life-changing dementia treatment by 2025, but a drop in income and the delay of studies due to the pandemic are threatening to impede progress.