Dementia is more of a burden on the UK than previously thought but loses out to other clinical priorities in terms of crucial research, claims a report published today by the Alzheimer’s Research Trust charity.
The Trust commissioned the University of Oxford to study the cost of the condition and it revealed that the impact of dementia on the UK’s society and economy is higher than ever, but dementia research remains severely underfunded compared to other conditions like cancer and heart disease.
Dementia 2010 says that dementia affects 822,000 people in the UK – 17% more than was previously thought – costing the economy £23 billion a year, but dementia research funding is 12 times lower than that for cancer research.
The £23billion cost of dementia is more than the costs of cancer (£12 billion per year) and heart disease (£8 billion per year) combined.
For every £1million in health and social care costs for the disease, £129,269 is spent on cancer research and just £4,882 on dementia research.
The study has estimated the economic burden from a societal perspective that includes not only health care costs but also those costs falling outside the health care sector, such as the opportunity costs associated with unpaid care to patients, or productivity losses associated with premature death or absence from work due to dementia.
Alzheimer’s Research Trust said the situation was unacceptable especially a year after the government published its National Dementia Strategy.
Each dementia patient cost the British economy more than the average salary and five times more than the average cancer patient.
The report also confirms a diagnosis gap between the expected number of people with dementia and the number of patients with dementia on GP registers.
In England only an estimated 31% of people with dementia are registered on GP lists and the report says this could be due to GPs’ lack of training and confidence in diagnosing dementia.
Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, said: “The true impact of dementia has been ignored for too long. The UK's dementia crisis is worse than we feared. This report shows that dementia is the greatest medical challenge of the 21st century."
Care Services Minister Phil Hope said the government fully recognised the importance of dementia research and said that by 2011, it would be investing almost £1 billion in health research.
“This money is awarded to the best quality research for any health condition, including dementia,” he said.
“Dementia is one of the most important issues we face as the population ages and I want to see an increase in the volume, quality and impact of dementia research.
“I have set up a new ministerial group which will drive forward research into the causes, cure and care of dementia and help dementia researchers get more access to funding.
“I have also just appointed a new National Clinical Director for Dementia, Professor Alistair Burns, to provide leadership across the whole dementia strategy.”