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Elderly woman with Alzheimer’s © Reporters

Proposals for coordinated action against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Twenty countries are teaming up to study Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, in the first test of a new approach to research in Europe.

Outlined by the commission last year, the recommended measures encourage EU countries to pool resources for research so they don’t duplicate efforts and waste precious funds. Nearly 85% of public money for research in Europe is spent on purely national ventures.

EU leaders endorsed the ‘joint programming’ concept in December on condition the projects were voluntary and aimed at a European or global issue. Dementia – a permanent or progressive decline in mental ability – was seen as a good subject for a pilot project because it is a growing problem in all EU countries and the costs of care are huge – about €130bn in 2005.

It is hoped the project will inspire joint research in other areas, including climate change. If countries coordinate their efforts, “we will see a major step ahead”, says research commissioner Janez Potočnik.

About 7.3 million people in the EU have some form of dementia, a number expected to double over the next 20 years as life expectancy increases. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause, accounting for 70% of all cases of dementia. There is no known cure for the disease, which robs people of their memory and ability to think.

The pilot project is part of a broader action plan drawn up by the commission in response to the anticipated rise in dementia. Besides calling for more cooperation on research, the plan urges member countries to share knowhow and work together to diagnose dementia earlier.

Alzheimer’s usually begins after age 60, and the risk goes up with age. People who are diagnosed early can make changes in their daily routines that may improve their quality of life. They can also participate in decisions about their treatment, put their financial affairs in order or get psychological counselling.

More on EU action against Alzheimer’s and dementia

Examples of EU-funded research on neurodegenerative diseases

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