Britain faces dementia catastrophe without ‘aggressive’ research drive

Britain faces dementia catastrophe without ‘aggressive’ research drive

Britain faces a “dementia catastrophe” unless Alzheimer’s is tackled with the same aggression as the fight against Aids, charities are warning.
By Martin Beckford, Health Correspondent 12:01AM GMT 09 Feb 2011

More people fear being diagnosed with the debilitating brain condition above anything else than fear cancer or death itself, research shows.

A million people in Britain will suffer some form of dementia within two decades, and one in three pensioners will die with it, figures suggest.

Yet 12 times as much is spent each year on cancer research, and there are six times as many scientists working on how to treat tumours. Currently, as many as two-thirds of people who develop dementia are never diagnosed while the best treatments can only help reduce symptoms and cannot prevent the degenerative disease progressing.

At the launch of a campaign by Alzheimer’s Research UK to increase the “pitifully low” investment in dementia, Sir Terry Pratchett, the author, said: “Alzheimer’s is a large number of small tragedies usually played out behind closed doors, so in spite of the numbers living with it, the world still doesn’t take much notice.

“When the world was shocked by HIV in the Eighties, we saw a crash programme of research which has helped tame it enormously. We need the same kind of aggressive action on dementia now.” He is the charity’s patron and has early onset Alzheimer’s.

Currently 820,000 people in Britain are thought to suffer dementia, progressively losing their memory and struggling to cope with everyday activities. The most common cause is Alzheimer’s disease.

A million people are likely to develop the condition within the next 15 years as the population ages and 1.7 million will be living with it by 2051, placing a significant burden on informal carers, the NHS and care homes.

A YouGov poll of more than 2,000 people found that 31 per cent feared dementia the most as they grow older, compared with 27 per cent who were most scared of cancer and 18 per cent who feared death itself more than anything. Alzheimer’s Research UK, formerly known as the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, reckons that dementia costs the economy £23 billion a year, more than cancer (£12 billion) and heart disease (£8 billion) combined.

Yet it says only £50 million a year is spent searching for better diagnoses and treatments, compared with £590 million spent on cancer research and £169  million on heart disease.

Researchers are trying to perfect a simple blood test for Alzheimer’s, as early diagnosis is likely to lead to better management of the condition.

Several types of drug exist to help sufferers but they only treat the symptoms while the process of brain degeneration continues. Alzheimer’s Research is now appealing to the public, ministers and private companies to help increase investment.

Rebecca Wood, its chief executive, said: “Public concern around dementia is at an all-time high, yet dementia research is still the poor relation.

“We have such brilliant research talent in the UK which could make real inroads into defeating dementia with more support.”

She said that the charity funded hundreds of leading scientists with the help of public donations, but that even combined with government spending the effort still lagged far behind that made against other diseases.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of The Alzheimer’s Society, added: “Dementia is the biggest challenge facing the UK and people are right to be worried. It is a devastating condition that robs people of their lives. Yet with the right treatments and support it is possible to live well with dementia. We must gear up to tackle this challenge by investing in research and support or else face a dementia catastrophe.”

Paul Burstow, the care services minister, agreed. He promised government help for research into its “care, cure and cause”.

He added: “The Department of Health’s research budget is nearly £1 billion this year – I want more of that funding to be supporting dementia research. But we can only do that if the number and quality of the research proposals are of the right standard to justify the investment.”

‘Sat nav’ cancer device at Merseyside centre

‘Sat nav’ cancer device at Merseyside centre

About 800 patients are due to benefit from the machine at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in its first year.

A groundbreaking radiotherapy device which could transform the way some cancer patients are treated goes into service on Merseyside later.

The Novalis Tx machine will allow doctors to treat tumours almost anywhere in the body in one session.

It uses a system similar to a ‘sat nav’ to destroy cancerous cells but helps to protect surrounding healthy tissue.

About 800 patients are due to benefit from the machine at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in its first year.

Dr Brian Haylock, consultant oncologist and clinical director for radiotherapy, said: “Unlike some other highly specialised radiation treatment machines, the Novalis Tx can treat many different types of cancer all over the body allowing us to treat more cancer patients with a single device.

“This coupled with the speed with which we can treat patients – in some cases in as little as 15 minutes in just one session – means the equipment will be available for the benefit of more patients here in the UK.”

‘Inspirational stuff’
The machines will also go into service at two other centres in Manchester and Edinburgh.

Almost 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every year.

Recent estimates show that of those, almost 50,000 people develop either primary or secondary brain tumours.

Sue Farrington-Smith, director of Brain Tumour Research, said: “We are delighted that advanced brain tumour treatments like the Novalis Tx are now available to cancer patients on the NHS.

“The work of Clatterbridge and The Walton Centre Trusts in Liverpool will undoubtedly provide the best cancer care for their patients. This is inspirational stuff.”

Internet first for blind Norwich resident

Internet first for blind Norwich resident

Donna-Louise Bishop, Local Life editor

Tuesday, February 8, 2011
11:15 AM

State of the art technology has revolutionised wireless listening for a Norwich woman who is registered blind.

“I operate it completely independently. It’s a hundred times easier than trying to find stations on a computer.”

Annabel Clifton

Annabel Clifton, a Braille tutor for Norfolk County Council, has become the first person in Norfolk to receive a Sonata internet audio player.

Miss Clifton, of Amderley Drive, off Newmarket Road, Eaton, is totally blind and explained why the product has made a difference.

“I like the simplicity of it. It’s the opposite of complicated,” she said.

“Once it’s set up, it’s so easy as you just have to press a few buttons. I never miss an episode of The Archers as I can easily access it via the podcasts.”

A lover of all kinds of music, Miss Clifton is also a singer and she and her partner John Bygrave, who plays the saxophone, often perform locally and record in Mr Bygrave’s studio.

Miss Clifton added: “I operate it completely independently and enjoy listening to country music from America and news and music from places as far afield as Mexico and Beirut. It’s a hundred times easier than trying to find stations on a computer.”

Fiona Pickett, British Wireless for the Blind Fund (BWBF) regional development manager said: ‘I’m delighted Annabel is getting so much enjoyment from her Sonata.

“It’s the first internet audio player specifically for users with sight loss and we’ve had a really good response to it.”

The BWBF charity spends about £475,000 per year providing audio equipment for blind and partially sighted people in need.

As an independent charity it receives no government funding or lottery money and it exists entirely on the kindness and generosity of its supporters.

For further information or to support the BWBF with a donation visit or call 01622 754757.

Have you received a life-changing product? Contact Donna-Louise Bishop at or call 01603 772438.