Evaluating the Global Fight Against Alzheimer’s Disease
How does the United States compare to other countries when it comes to Alzheimer’s research and care? A new Senate report reveals how we measure up.
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are not just ongoing health issues in the U.S.—they are matters of concern throughout the world. Fortunately, there’s cause for hope. A recent report from the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging reveals that global collaboration in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease has the potential to usher in lasting worldwide progress on dementia. Looking at what strategies we have in common with other developed nations can help us pinpoint what we’re doing well—and, at the same time, we can learn a lot from how other countries are approaching Alzheimer’s research.
Global Priorities in Fighting Alzheimer’s Disease
The Committee on Aging’s report looked at Alzheimer’s research, diagnosis, and treatment in five “focus countries”–Australia, France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.—as well as summarizing the current Alzheimer’s situation in low and middle income countries.
In the focus nations and other countries that have a dedicated plan for approaching Alzheimer’s and dementia, there were several common priorities:
- Improving the accuracy and timeliness of diagnosis
- Identifying biomarkers to pinpoint diagnosis and track the course of the disease
- Translating our research into the genetics of Alzheimer’s into effective treatment
- Increasing knowledge of the disease while reducing the stigma associated with it
- Caregiving issues such as continuity of care, appropriate worker training, improving access to home care, and increasing support for family caregivers
Though there is still room for improvement, the report’s authors were pleased at the level of worldwide collaboration in scientific research, given how much we still don’t know about Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s Treatment: How the U.S. Measures Up
Health care systems, resources, and policies vary widely from country to country, even among nations that share a strong interest in battling AD and dementia. However, the United States clearly lags behind Europe in terms of public awareness, social services and reducing the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Here are a few highlights on the each focus nation’s Alzheimer’s strategy:
- Australia: Is specifically researching diet and lifestyle factors that contribute to developing Alzheimer’s; has a strong focus on home care services in the long term care of individuals with AD or dementia
- France: Has increased their public funding of research into AD over each of the past 5 years; is creating a larger infrastructure of memory care centers and coordinating medical treatment with social services
- Japan: Emphasizes research into diagnosis and preventive measures; has created a network of Medical Centers for Dementia that provide specialized medical services linked to community resources
- United Kingdom: Has a focus on evaluating Alzheimer’s treatment, including efficacy of care and use of medication and health technology; widespread public awareness campaigns to reduce stigma associated with dementia
- United States: In 2010, had the highest per capita spending level on research into AD and dementia; REACH program (Resources to Enhance Caregiver Health II) helps reduce stress and burden on caregivers
The overall conclusion of the report is that most countries have shared goals when it comes to diagnosing, researching, and treating Alzheimer’s disease; where the differences lie is in the area of implementing treatment. As for the U.S., there are a number of things we can do to improve dementia care treatment—as the report notes, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is expected to triple over the next 25 years.
One major recommendation of the report is to increase the pace of research. Even though it’s costly to invest in scientific developments, the cost of AD itself is much higher: perhaps as much as $20 trillion over the next 40 years, to say nothing of the non-monetary costs to families and caregivers. In light of that, providing cost-effective services will be particularly important, too. Learning from what other countries are doing to successfully address the challenge can help us meet the needs of Alzheimer’s patients here at home.
Let us know what you think about the report—where do you think the U.S. needs to improve? Leave us a note in the comments.
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