Quantum Leap in Research Investment Needed to Meet Dementia Challenges
How can we confront dementia, the greatest public health challenge in Australia? Understanding modifiable risk factors through large-scale, population based studies should continue to be the focus according to researchers at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), UNSW Sydney.
March 2018 marks the third year of The Dementia Momentum initiative developed by CHeBA with the help of its eminent spokesperson Richard Grellman AM, Chairman of IPH Limited and AMP Foundation. An anniversary event was hosted by CHeBA’s ongoing partner KPMG Sydney on 28 March with an expert panel discussion chaired by national icon and patron of CHeBA’s Maintain Your Brain study, Ita Buttrose AO OBE.
KPMG Partner John Teer opened the panel discussion and said it had been a privilege to support The Dementia Momentum since its launch in 2015 and gave recognition to all donors for their support.
He acknowledged the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation for their ongoing commitment to this area of research and to Phil Cave and Judy Harris who have continued their support since becoming the initiative’s first philanthropic members. Mr Teer also extended thanks to Peter Chittenden and his team at Colliers International Residential who have shown extraordinary support over the last few years and this month partnered with CHeBA on The Dementia Momentum Appeal.
“From my perspective it is an honour to support Richard Grellman, a former KPMG colleague,” said Teer.
“While the second anniversary of The Dementia Momentum saw new risk factor findings for cognitive decline and protective factors for healthy cognitive ageing, the third year has seen increased involvement from corporate partners, donors and fundraising support with a total of close to $6.5 million generated toward a goal of $10 million over 5 years,” said Richard Grellman.
The number of people diagnosed with dementia worldwide continues to rapidly increase, with figures estimated to reach 135 million by 2050. At projected rates, the aged care workforce will need to triple by 2050 and 750 new beds in nursing homes are needed per month, with 500 of those beds for dementia patients.
“I ask everyone to reflect on how it would be if dementia were to strike you in your prime; during that period of your life when you would normally hope to be enjoying the fruits of your hard work, the successes of your children and the joy of having grandchildren.
“My wife Suellen is one such person. In the last three years since this initiative commenced, her condition has deteriorated significantly. In fact, she is now in need of direct assistance for every daily function and activity. She now cannot walk, has lost the ability to speak and even needs family or the carers where she lives to feed her at meal times.
“She has just turned 67.”
According to CHeBA’s Co-Directors Professor Henry Brodaty and Professor Perminder Sachdev, identification of risk factors is crucial for changing the social and economic impact of dementia. Despite estimates suggesting the cost of dementia globally to be US$818 billion, research funding into risk and protective factors lags substantially, which means that despite advances in technology there remains too few researchers working toward significant change.
For decades, researchers and the community have awaited positive outcome of a drug to treat Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. The fact that many pharmaceutical companies have withdrawn their support of drug trials after billions of dollars of unsuccessful outlay highlights a fundamental issue, according to CHeBA.
“Even if a therapeutic treatment is discovered, it won’t help the millions of people like Suellen who already have Alzheimer’s disease and those with other types of dementia,” said Professor Brodaty.
“The population with dementia stands to have tripled by 2050, and its impact on the Australian economy is set to double to 2% of GDP.”
“We need a quantum leap in investment in research to meet these challenges,” said Professor Brodaty.
With less than 1% of the investment made in the failed $3 billion Solanezumab drug trial, CHeBA’s research under The Dementia Momentum identified a range of risk factors and areas for more targeted research in just two years. Significantly, all of this research was exclusively funded by direct donations from the philanthropic community.
Professor Sachdev said the main objective of the initiative is to bring CHeBA’s “big data” approach to bear upon the epidemiology of dementia. At the same time, it aims to raise community awareness about the challenge of dementia, and presents an opportunity for philanthropists to effect real, societal change in dementia incidence.
The contributions so far have been accompanied by significant outreach, including six fundraising and awareness campaigns run as part of Wipeout Dementia, a corporate strength-for-surfing training event which gained the support and involvement of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and NSW Premier Mike Baird. These events have gained national and international media attention with a 7th Wipeout Dementia to take place in May 2018.
The central aim of The Dementia Momentum is to identify universal and demographic-specific risk and protective factors for dementia, by combining and analysing findings from international studies using four consortia (COSMIC, ICC-Dementia, STROKOG and PROMOTE).
“Looking back, part of my hope as Spokesman of this initiative was not just to help drive fundraising to CHeBA but to start a movement that alters the prejudice largely still existing around dementia. I want dialogue increased about the disease, people encouraged to see a specialist sooner, and of course, resources directed in the right way to help alter the future of this crippling disease,” said Grellman.
“It remains my view that the right direction is CHeBA.”