Experts deplore lack of global efforts against Alzheimer’s at Helsinki conference

Lack of a concerted international effort against Alzheimer’s, the brain damaging ailment, was one of the themes of the two-day conference on silver economy that wound up here on Wednesday.

George Vradenburg, director of U.S. action group “UsAgainstAlzheimer’s”, said the brain syndrome will soon reach worldwide social dimensions that make it comparable to the climate crisis.

At a panel discussion, Vradenburg said 150 million people will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by 2025, and the number of people losing their lives as a result of the syndrome will reach 25 million.

He compared the situation to the way the immune deficiency syndrome, later known as AIDS, was met with research investments. Today AIDS is a chronic ailment that would not kill those people infected, if treated.

Vradenburg deplored that Alzheimer’s has not been encountered with a response like the battle against HIV/AIDS, even though the cost of patient care will reach huge dimensions.

The problem is global, Vradenburg stressed, adding that most victims live in developing countries.

The G8 group of industrialized nations discussed Alzheimer’s in 2013, but the initiative did not result in major investments in research, hee said.

HIGH RATE IN JAPAN

According to the panelists, Japan is most likely the country with the highest rate of new cases of Alzheimer’s.

Kazumi Nishikawa, director of the health care industry division at the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said there are now 4.6 million such patients in Japan. But by 2025 the number is expected to reach 7 million. Currently 27 percent of the inhabitants of Japan are over 65 and the share is growing.

Nishikawa called for new ways of preventing the onslaught of the syndrome, as well as technologies that are memory-problems-friendly.

He said artificial intelligence could make it easier for people with memory problems to communicate. In addition, home construction could be developed in a way that would make domestic situations easier.

On the medical side, he said sufficient sleep and giving up smoking may be ways to combat the problem. He also warned against depression, overweight and high blood pressure.

Dementia is the last phase of the syndrome. Panelists said, however, that early stages of the disease apparently exist as early as 20 years prior to actual symptoms.

Phyllis Barkman-Ferrell, a commercial director at the pharmaceutical conglomerate Eli Lilly, said a breakthrough is “actually close” in the development of medication, “but the effect of the upcoming drugs is diminished due to the late diagnosis.”

She said that on average, diagnosis takes place when the person is 73 years old. “Even if we would have efficient medication, we would not have the patients that could be treated early enough.”

Barkman-Ferrel underlined the need to include memory tests in the health checkups of seniors