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Alzheimer Europe holds successful 22nd annual conference in Austria

Thursday 04 October 2012

The 22nd Alzheimer Europe Conference took place on 4-6 October in Vienna. The conference, entitled “Changing perceptions, practice and policy”, was organised by Alzheimer Europe together with Alzheimer Austria and attracted some 500 delegates from 42 countries.

Participants represented a wide range of backgrounds within the dementia field, including people with dementia and their carers, leaders of national Alzheimer associations and volunteer caregivers. The conference was also attended by healthcare professionals, academics and researchers, representatives from the pharmaceutical industry as well as national and EU policy makers.

The organisers were particularly glad to welcome more than 15 people with dementia from 12 countries. Alzheimer Europe provided a special bursary to provide most of these special guests with transport and accommodation.

The conference was opened by Heike von Lützau-Hohlbein and Antonia Croy, respectively Chairpersons of Alzheimer Europe and Alzheimer Austria. They greeted the delegates and introduced Rudolf Hundstorfer, Austria’s Federal Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Consumer Protection. Mr Hundstorfer announced that the Austrian government would work toward establishing a national dementia plan within five years. He also praised the work of Alzheimer Austria and assured Ms Croy that the association will have a significant role in developing the plan.

This year’s conference featured some 120 speakers in plenary and parallel sessions, special symposia and workshops. The four plenary sessions focused on the changes needed to cope with the growing number of people with dementia in Europe. Delegates learned that no country is spared: every country needs to develop a national dementia plan - and also collaborate in European research programmes - in order to address the challenges of dementia. These research programmes include clinical trials for cures but also efforts to exchange best practices and investigate the psycho-social effects of living with dementia. The first plenary session, “Changing policy - national strategies and European collaboration on dementia”, was a round-table discussion chaired by Andreas Winkler. Prof Alistair Burns (England) and Ms Teresa di Fiandra (Italy) described the development of their respective national plans. Ms Caitriona Creely (Ireland) presented the ambitious aims of the Joint Programming on Neurodegeneration whilst Mr Michael Hübel of the European Commission outlined the place of dementia in the European programmes for active ageing and public health.

The second session, named “Changing practice - medical and clinical aspects”, was chaired by Dr. Charles Scerri (Malta). Prof Bruno Dubois (France) talked about changing the criteria for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, while Prof Eric Larson (USA) offered prospects for the prevention of dementia in our increasingly ageing society. Dr. Achim Schneeberger (Austria) presented an overview of the latest dementia research and Dr. Giovanni Frisoni (Italy) followed up with new insights from research projects using imaging to diagnose dementia.

The third plenary session was led by Ms Stefanie Auer (Austria) and explored the topic “Changing practice - social and care aspects”. Ms Kerstin Zimmermann (Austria) updated delegates on the Ambient Assisted Living Joint Programme and its focus on the mobility and independence of people with dementia. She was followed by Dr. Armelle Leperre-Desplanques (France) , who presented ALCOVE - the European Joint Action on dementia to exchange good practices. INTERDEM, another collaborative project, was presented by Prof Bob Woods (United Kingdom), an expert in psychosocial research. Finally, Dr. Marilène Filbet (France) presented the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC), which is involved in palliative care for older people with dementia.

Dr. Myrra Vernooij-Dassen (Netherlands) chaired the final plenary session, named “Changing perceptions”. Ms Helga Rohra (Germany) gave a talk about the importance of involving people with dementia. The ethical implications of technology and dementia were outlined by Prof Cees Hertogh (Netherlands), who was followed by Dianne Gove’s overview of the latest conclusions and recommendations of the European Dementia Ethics Network on dementia research. Helga Müller-Ebner (Austria) closed the session with a presentation on guardianship and advocacy in the Austrian healthcare system.

This session was notable for having a keynote speaker with dementia. Ms Helga Rohra, a former translator, lives with dementia with Lewy bodies. She spoke to delegates about the difficulties she has faced, including the urgent need to raise awareness and eliminate the stigma associated with dementia.

The conference also included 24 parallel sessions. These dealt with specific topics such as diagnosis, activities of people with dementia in their community, carer support and palliative care. Many of these presentations illustrated how national Alzheimer associations are developing effective solutions to help improve the quality of life of people with dementia and their carers. Delegates also learned how assistive technologies can provide relief for families and saw examples of how to design a dementia-friendly community. Several of these sessions featured speakers with dementia, who spoke about stigmatisation and the need for involvement on local and national levels.

The conference ended with closing remarks by Heike von Lützau-Hohlbein and Antonia Croy, along with an invitation to Malta for the 23rd Alzheimer Europe Conference in 2013.

Alzheimer Europe and Alzheimer Austria are very grateful to all the presenters and delegates that helped make the conference a success. It is hoped that participants will continue to share their research projects, initiatives and activities to help in the ambitious task of changing perceptions, policy and practice in dementia.

The 22nd Alzheimer Europe Conference received funding from the European Commission’s Public Health Programme.

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