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Angelika Werthmann (Austria)

MEPs speak out on dementia

June 2012: Angelika Werthmann, MEP (Austria) and member of the European Alzheimer's Alliance, speaks about Alzheimer's disease in the framework of the "Health for Growth" programme

The "Health for Growth" programme is an extremely useful tool for the European Union which does not only serve to improve the well-being of the European citizens but also emphasises the links between economic growth and a healthy population to a greater extent than the previous programmes. Consequently, it provides a clear EU-added value and should therefore be made known to our citizens and used as such.

It is commonly recognised that a healthy population reduces public costs of the EU and Member States.

We have to keep in mind that Alzheimer's disease is the most frequent form of dementia. In the European Union 7.3 million people are diagnosed with dementia and about 50 to 70 percent of these have Alzheimer’s disease.

At the same time, the European population is an ageing one and this poses serious public health, social and thus economic challenges.

Alzheimer's disease is a chronic, unpreventable, age-related and terminal disease and the number of people with dementia will increase. Thus, we will all have to deal with this challenge. 

When one takes into account the informal carers of people with dementia (usuallly family members), it is commonly accepted that the number of those directly affected by the disease is estimated to be 20 million. This has an immense impact on the physical and mental health of this group of people, on their social life, as well as on their working-life and their pension rights. It also results in a huge rise on the public costs of the EU.

An early diagnosis of any form of dementia would definitely be more cost-effective and, even more importantly for the individuals concerned, it would contribute to a healthier and better quality of life for all the people concerned.

The "Health for Growth" programme has some clear general objectives, including the sustainability of the health systems as well as the improvement of health in the EU citizens.

The financial support provided by the programme is essential to further develop research both at national and European level, whilst allowing for the fact that the situation regarding innovation differs in the individual Member States.

Due to these aforementioned important facts, Alzheimer's disease, in my view, would definitely qualify for inclusion on the ‘Health for Growth’ Programme.

In September 2012, Angelika Werthmann, MEP (Austria) and member of the European Alzheimer Alliance, spoke to Alzheimer Europe about the challenges faced by people with dementia and their carers in Austria

Alzheimer Europe (AE): Ms Werthmann, what are the key challenges that people with dementia and their carers face in Austria?

Angelika Werthmann (AW): Currently, there are 120,000 patients with dementia in Austria, two-thirds of them are women and many of them suffer with Alzheimer’s disease. 80 % of these people stay at home for many years and receive care and assistance by their close family. There is a lack of day-care services, of long-stay centres and, in addition to this, home-based care needs to be further developed. Another problem is that neither the patients nor their carers receive any recognition for the situation they are in. In some cases there is no recognition from family and friends, and in other cases, family and friends belong to the carers and do not receive any recognition either.

There are only six day-care centres in the country (all of which are run by Alzheimer’s Associations under the 3rd European Support Framework) and there are no homes specifically for Alzheimer’s patients. There is no national action plan to fight dementia.

As the life expectancy of the Austrian population increases, the number of people with dementia will increase to 270,000 by 2050, which actually means that it will almost triple. By 2050 it is expected that every twelfth Austrian over 60 will have the dementia.

Dementia will also impact on work-life - the relationship between employment and people with dementia will change rapidly; according to the “First Austrian Dementia Report” it is expected that in 2020 every 32nd person of working-age will have dementia and in 2050 this will increase to be every 15th.

AE: Governments across Europe are starting to pay more attention to the demographic changes in our societies and the resulting increase in the number of people with dementia in the future. Are there similar discussions in your country on a governmental or parliamentary level?

AW: The Commission's proposal for Horizon 2020 identifies the ‘health, demographic change and well-being’ challenge which is likely to provide opportunities for research on Alzheimer's disease. No action specifically addresses Alzheimer's disease in the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme or in the Connecting Europe Facility (2014-2020). Neither the Austrian government nor the Austrian Parliament pays much attention to the growing problem of dementia in Austria.

So far, FP7 support for research on Alzheimer’s disease has been received in 20 Member States. Variation in the participation depends on several factors such as national interest and investment in this area, existence of expertise and dedicated infrastructure which may influence scientists' interest in a specific subject. Several measures are foreseen under Horizon 2020 to widen participation across Europe.

AE: Do you believe that Austria will follow the example of France, Norway, the Netherlands, Scotland and England and create a National Alzheimer’s Plan?

AW: Yes, there is an urgent need to get dementia on the public and political agenda in Austria. Austria should certainly follow the examples of France, Norway, the Netherlands, Scotland and England. I hope that it will not take too long for Austria to take that path.

AE: What do you believe the three policy priorities should be for Austrian policy makers to improve the lives of people with dementia and their carers in your country?

AW: At EU-level, support for research on neurodegenerative diseases was a priority in the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7, 2007–2013) with about EUR 320 million dedicated to this area, including some EUR 115 million on Alzheimer's disease. Research is essential to combat the fact that the more the population of Europe is ageing, the more European citizens will have to face Alzheimer's disease.

Research on Alzheimer's disease could be supported by cohesion policy. Austria, as well as other Member States, is responsible for the selection of projects under national or regional programmes, which may best contribute to the objectives of this policy, ensuring respect of applicable rules and keeping a record of these projects. The Commission's responsibility is to ensure compliance with the EU legislation.

The three policy priorities for Austrian policy makers should be:

1. To boost cooperation and alliances between local health authorities and NGOs,

2.  Raising awareness and to fight stigma, and last but not least

3.  To improve access to diagnosis, treatment and quality of live for patients as well as for their carers.

AE: A last question on the need for a European response to the growing numbers of people with dementia. Would you support the development of a European Action Plan in this field and, if so, what should the priorities for such collaboration be?

AW: A European Action Plan in this field would definitely allow the mutual exchange of knowledge and factual experience on the practical issues for people with dementia as well as for their carers. One would assume that it could be also beneficial to the Member States’ budget, especially regarding national health costs. Such exchange could also be beneficial between specially trained nurses and carers.

It should always be taken into consideration that the exchange of knowledge and European-wide research activities and their findings benefit patients. The patients must be in the focus of our attention.



Last Updated: Tuesday 16 September 2014