Priority Medicines for Europe and the World 2013 Update. Background Paper 6 - Priority Diseases and Reasons for Inclusion. BP 6.11 - Alzheimer Disease and other Dementias
(2013; 74 pages)


Improvements in health care in the past century have contributed to people living longer and healthier lives. This has also resulted in an increase in the number of people with noncommunicable diseases, including dementia. Although dementia mainly affects older people, it is not a normal part of ageing. Dementia is a syndrome, usually of a chronic or progressive nature, caused by a variety of brain illnesses that affect memory, thinking, behaviour and ability to perform everyday activities. Dementia is overwhelming not only for the people who have it, but also for their caregivers and families. It is one of the major causes of disability and dependency among older people worldwide.

Prevalence and incidence projections indicate that the number of people with dementia will continue to grow, particularly among the oldest old, and countries in demographic transition will experience the greatest growth. The total number of people with dementia worldwide in 2010 is estimated at 35.6 million and is projected to nearly double every 20 years, to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050. The total number of new cases of dementia each year worldwide is nearly 7.7 million, implying one new case every four seconds.

Alzheimer disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia. There are no available treatments that stop or reverse the progression of the disease, which worsens as it progresses, and eventually leads to death. There are currently no specific markers that can confirm with a 100% certainty AD diagnosis. A combination of brain imaging and clinical assessment checking for signs of memory impairment is used to identify patients with AD. Definitive diagnosis can only be only obtained after patients autopsy by examining brain tissues. There is a clear need for tangible advances in the area of biomarkers for assessment of risk, diagnosis and monitoring disease progression. Screening of patients still remain very expensive and new research is necessary to develop non expensive and reliable tests.

Continuing efforts are still required. This includes developing medicines that would slow progression, halt, or prevent AD and other dementias from occurring. Current studies are currently underway to identify biomarkers for diagnosis and new therapeutics to prevent or slow down disease progression. Consortia of top-level European research and industrial partners will need to act in this direction and contribute to strengthen the EU’s leadership on Alzheimer disease research.

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