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What is Europe doing?

The very young and the very old

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Graphic elementThe facts

The very young and the very oldCommon diseases that affect millions of people deserve a great deal of research, but rarer diseases that affect particularly vulnerable people in our society cannot be overlooked. About half a million new born babies die in Europe each year from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, a tragedy which means the end of a life that has barely started and untold misery for grieving parents.
At the other end of the age spectrum, almost five percent of the population develop Alzheimer's disease at about the age of 65, becoming incapable of recognising even their closest family and requiring 24-hour care. The disease becomes more common in the very elderly; almost a quarter of those over 80 are affected. As the proportion of older people in the European population continues to increase, the social impact of this type of age-related disease will become greater.


Graphic elementAction

The very young and the very oldEurope recognises the human impact of disease and is coordinating projects that aim to reduce suffering and increase quality of life. Recent research has shown that putting babies to sleep on their backs cuts the deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by as much as half. Fifteen centres in 12 European countries are now combining results from individual studies in order to identify other risk factors. This information should help to reduce the death rate still further.
A large project is also underway to work out the risk factors for Alzheimer's disease by studying the variation with which the disease develops in different European countries. Statisticians and doctors are monitoring 43000 people from different EU countries over a period of several years and are hopeful that patterns will emerge from the mass of data that is being analysed.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome - Identifying risk factors
European studies have confirmed that putting babies to sleep on their front is a big risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Current studies are investigating other environmental factors that might be important such as the baby's weight at birth and whether or not their parents smoke. Other researchers are trying to discover if there are also genetic risk factors.

The very young and the very old

Quality of life for older people
One European project is investigating whether a new class of drugs which block histamine receptors in the brain might be used to improve the quality of life for patients with Alzheimer's disease.
But what happens to the brain as we age? Another EU project is using the latest imaging technology to understand the changes we undergo. The techniques should improve knowledge of brain disease and dementias and should be useful for assessing the value of new treatments.

The very young and the very old

 
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