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Frieda Brepoels (Belgium)

MEPs speak out on dementia

Frieda Brepoels (Belgium) talks to AE about her priorities for the European elections (May 2009)

In the run up to the elections, Alzheimer Europe asked Members of the European Parliament the following questions:

1. As the mandate of this European Parliament draws to a close, we would be very interested in hearing which you consider to be the key accomplishments of this Parliament which had a direct impact on people with Alzheimer’s disease and their carers?

2. After the European Parliament elections in June, which are the main policy initiatives that will be important for people with dementia and their carers?

3. If you are re-elected, do you have any personal priorities that would be of particular interest to people with dementia and their carers?

Frieda Brepoels

Frieda Brepoels: The key accomplishment of the European Parliament is obviously the adoption of the Written Declaration 080/2008 on Alzheimer’s disease, which was signed by an overwhelming majority of MEPs. The adoption confirms the recognition of Alzheimer’s disease as a priority on the European health agenda. For me, the strength of the declaration lies in its comprehensive approach. It does not only recognise the urgency to respond to the health challenges posed by Alzheimer disease, but also highlights the important social challenges we are facing and calls for evidence-based action by underlining the importance of research.

Moreover, the adoption of the Resolution on Mental Health equally provides a hopeful signal. The resolution recognises mental health of older people as a priority and stresses the need to promote research into prevention and care with regard to neurodegenerative disorders and other age-related mental illnesses. Furthermore, it asks for any future Commission action or proposal to distinguish between Alzheimer's disease or similar neurodegenerative disorders and other forms of mental illness. Also the horizontal priority of the Resolution, prevention of stigma and social exclusion, seems very relevant for Europeans confronted with Alzheimer disease.

At the EU Health Forum in December 2008, Public Health Commissioner Vassiliou announced an initiative on Alzheimer’s disease for 2009. It will be crucial for the new Parliament to follow these developments closely.

Furthermore, I think, as a first stage, the new Parliament will have to monitor carefully the outcomes of the Written Declaration. The elected MEPs will have to make sure that Member States and the Commission step up their actions and keep Alzheimer’s disease high on the agenda. Finally, the implementation of the Mental Health Pact also deserves full attention.

We all know that Europe's ageing population will make more people - including people with Alzheimer’s disease - dependent on care. Though people with Alzheimer’s disease have different, individual needs, many want to stay at home as long as possible. In this regard, I would like to see more European initiatives related to homecare. I strongly believe the EU can have an added value by raising awareness and establishing indicators to collect information and data. We can learn a lot by exchanging best practices and experiences, for example on training of health professionals and carers. The EU can also (co-)fund and coordinate research on neurodegenerative diseases, and stimulate research into new medication, treatment (for example programmes that stimulate cognitive functions and hence slow down the progression of dementia) and medical technologies to support patients, their families and carers. A lot remains to be done in this area.

Frieda Brepoels (MEP, Belgium), deputy chair of the European Alzheimer’s Alliance, highlights the importance of the recent developments in combating Alzheimer’s disease at European and national level. (April 2010)

In my contribution to the election special of "Dementia in Europe" last year, I marked the adoption of the written declaration on Alzheimer and the resolution on the Mental Health Pact as the main accomplishments of the European Parliament. At that time we were still looking very much forward to the initiative on Alzheimer’s disease announced by Commissioner Vassiliou, which defined the need for joint programming in research as a key challenge for European policymaking.

The Alzheimer Alliance has definitely played a crucial role during the previous mandate in getting Alzheimer’s disease at the centre of the political agenda by raising the profile of dementia, and in particular Alzheimer's disease, at European and national level. At national level we see that indeed an increasing number of competent authorities in the Member States are now putting dementia plans and strategies in place, which is a clear result of the awareness campaigns driven and supported by the Alliance.

Furthermore, at European level, 2009 was a remarkable year since the Commission published its Communication on Alzheimer's disease and its proposal for a Council Recommendation on measures to combat neurodegenerative diseases through the joint programming of research activities (July 2009). I immediately welcomed the four priorities put forward by the Commission, in particular the joint programming of research: I strongly believe in the added value that European cooperation can have in this regard. The largest share of public investment in research (up to 85%) still occurs without European coordination, which inevitably leads to fragmentation and costly overlaps. By pushing for a coordinated European approach, we can indeed strive for a smarter and more efficient use of existing means and thus speed up insights in causes of dementia and enhance treatment options.

Moreover, the European Parliament clearly voiced its support for the actions put forward by the Commission in the resolution on joint programming of research of November 12 2009. I would like to highlight the Parliament's call to the Commission and Council to consider launching a "European Year of the Brain" in order to raise awareness of age-related neurodegenerative diseases and measures to prevent them. Given the fact that the European population is ageing, that currently already around 7, 3 million citizens across the EU-27 are affected with a type of dementia and that many more are indirectly confronted with the disease, I consider this would be an excellent opportunity to pull our efforts together.

To capitalise on the success of its previous work, the Alliance should call upon the EU policy makers, and especially the recently appointed Commissioners Dalli, Andor and Geoghegan-Quinn, to keep the momentum and ensure that the Commission's Communication issued last July actually delivers. Both the people with Alzheimer's disease and their carers must be on their agenda. We should also remind the competent authorities in the Member States to keep dementia as a top priority on their health, social and research agenda and stimulate the Member States who are still lagging behind to follow suite.



Last Updated: Wednesday 28 March 2012