Beyond forgetfulness: Why we must act on Alzheimer’s disease now

In the face of an increasingly aging population, today’s reality reveals a harsh truth: health systems in the EU and beyond are ill-equipped to provide early and timely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and embrace innovative treatments that could help to preserve memory and, with it, independence.  

Recent advances suggest that timely intervention may hold the promise to slow the memory decline in Alzheimer’s disease, making early diagnosis more critical than ever before. Yet without the necessary health care infrastructure in place to diagnose and provide treatment, we risk missing the crucial early window and the opportunity to delay — and hopefully in the near future prevent — distressing symptoms for patients and heartbreaking experiences for families.  

The EU and its member countries have the opportunity to be remembered for leading in this space by increasing funding for research, improving health care infrastructure to support accurate diagnosis and timely intervention, and enhancing support services at a national and regional level. The forthcoming European Parliament elections in June 2024 are the ideal moments to make that pledge. For individuals, families and health care systems, Alzheimer’s disease is a ticking time bomb unless we invest in our future health today.  

The EU is not prepared for Alzheimer’s disease  

In Europe, approximately 7 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s disease, a number set to double to 14 million by 2050.1 On top of the physical and emotional distress this will cause, there are direct financial and social implications on families and communities, with Alzheimer’s costs expected to reach a staggering €250 billion by 20302 — bigger than the GDP of Portugal3 — placing an additional and substantial weight on global health care systems that are already struggling under cost and capacity burdens.4 

Timely diagnosis stands as a cornerstone in determining the appropriate treatment for patients.

That’s why MEP Deirdre Clune is leading the call for a European Parliament hearing to discuss a focused EU strategy on dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “Timely diagnosis stands as a cornerstone in determining the appropriate treatment for patients,” argues Clune. “Therefore, the EU must create a strategic framework which lays out clear recommendations for national governments and recognises the toll of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease on societies across Europe, encourage innovation and take on board best practices to develop effective and efficient approaches. Together, with a unified approach and firm commitment, the EU can pave the way for better Alzheimer’s care.”

In the next EU political mandate, policymakers must answer the call by developing a comprehensive EU Beating Dementia Plan that specifically addresses the unique challenges posed by Alzheimer’s disease and building on established coordinated action plans for other significant health burdens, such as the EU Beating Cancer Plan. The European Brain Council and EFPIA’s, RETHINKING Alzheimer’s disease White Paper is a useful resource, calling for policymakers to rethink Alzheimer’s and offering policy recommendations to make tangible changes to improve the lives of people living with the disease.  

EU member countries must commit to investing in diagnostic infrastructure, technology and integrated care that can help to detect Alzheimer’s disease at an early stage and ensure timely intervention resulting in the preservation of memory and, thereof, independent living and normal social functioning.  

Laying the foundations at national level  

While action is certainly needed at the EU level, huge opportunity lies at the national and regional levels. Each member country has the chance to apply well-funded national dementia plans that tailor their strategies and responses to address the distinct needs of their populations, making a real and meaningful impact on the people and health systems in their country.  

Inspiration stems from Italy, which recently launched its Parliamentary Intergroup for Neuroscience and Alzheimer’s, dedicating its efforts to raising awareness, fostering discussions among national and regional institutions, promoting clinician and patient involvement, supporting novel research, implementing new diagnostic models, and strengthening patient access to care. 

Italian MP Annarita Patriarca, co-host of the Parliamentary Intergroup, affirms: “Primary responsibility of a member state is to ensure to all citizens the greatest standards of diagnosis and access to treatment and care. Thus, it is necessary to put in place a strong collaboration between the public and private sector to strengthen investments in neurological diseases. Improving patients’ diagnostic and care pathways, especially in a disease area like AD with such a high unmet medical need and societal impact will be the core focus of the intergroup.” 

Additionally, during the Alzheimer’s and Neuroscience Conference: a priority for the country in July, members of the Italian Parliament importantly put forward legislative and regulatory solutions to ensure an early and accurate diagnosis. 

Leading the conversation on the international stage   

Amid the growing burden of Alzheimer’s disease globally, this is a moment for policymakers to hold each other accountable. Member countries are uniquely placed to do this within the EU but also across the wider health care ecosystem, calling on countries and leaders to honor prior commitments that prioritized investment in relieving major health burdens, including Alzheimer’s.  

Encouragingly, the May G7 Hiroshima Leaders’ Communiqué specifically recognized and supported dementia as a freestanding issue, breaking away from the typical categorization with NCDs. Moreover, the G7 health ministers published a joint Communiqué spotlighting the priority to “enhance early detection, diagnosis and interventions, including developing care pathways and capability and capacity building of health and primary care providers by strengthening primary health care (PHC)”.  

These promising steps mean that Alzheimer’s disease is beginning to gain the recognition it deserves but also acts as a line in the sand to ensure complacency doesn’t creep in. Collectively, EU countries must assume a leading voice within the international fora, ensuring that Alzheimer’s disease remains a global health care priority and receives the investment it warrants. 

Time to commit to action in Alzheimer’s disease  

September marks World Alzheimer’s Month, and its theme Never Too Early, Never Too Late, reiterates the importance of early diagnosis. It presents a valuable foundation to initiate discussions on country- and regional-level strategies to drive and strengthen diagnostic infrastructure and services for the prevention, diagnosis, case management, monitoring and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Unless we act now, a generation of people will be forgotten as they begin to lose their memories.

“Unless we act now, a generation of people will be forgotten as they begin to lose their memories,” shares Frédéric Destrebecq, executive director of The European Brain Council. “By recognizing the urgency of the situation and making concerted investments, we can forge a path toward a more compassionate, empowered future for individuals, families and communities impacted by Alzheimer’s, and remember all those who’ve been lost to this devastating disease.”

It is never too early, never too late, to be remembered for taking action against this debilitating disease.  

References:  

1 – Jones RW, Mackell J, Berthet K, Knox S. Assessing attitudes and behaviours surrounding Alzheimer’s disease in Europe: key findings of the Important Perspectives on Alzheimer’s Care and Treatment (IMPACT) survey. The journal of nutrition, health & aging. 2010 Aug;14:525-30.  

2 – Cimler R, Maresova P, Kuhnova J, Kuca K. Predictions of Alzheimer’s disease treatment and care costs in European countries. PLoS One. 2019;14(1):e0210958. Published 2019 Jan 25. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0210958 

3 – Published by Statista Research Department, 20 J. GDP of European countries 2022. Statista. June 20, 2023. Accessed August 1, 2023. https://www.statista.com/statistics/685925/gdp-of-european-countries/. 

4 – The Economist. Why health-care services are in chaos everywhere. Available at:  https://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2023/01/15/why-health-care-services-are-in-chaos-everywhere. Accessed: July 2023.  



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G7 ends with Ukraine in focus as president meets world leaders

World leaders ratcheted up pressure Sunday on Russia for its war against Ukraine, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the centre of a swirl of diplomacy on the final day of the Group of Seven summit of rich-world democracies.

Zelenskyy’s in-person attendance at one of the world’s premier diplomatic gatherings is meant to galvanize attention on his nation’s 15-month fight against Russia. 

Even before he landed Saturday on a French plane, the G7 nations had unveiled a slew of new sanctions and other measures meant to punish Moscow and hamper its war-fighting abilities.

Ukraine is the overwhelming focus of the summit, but the leaders of Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada and Italy, as well as the European Union, are also working to address global worries over climate change, AI, poverty, economic instability and nuclear proliferation.

Two US allies – South Korea and Japan – continued efforts Sunday to improve ties that have often been hurt by lingering anger over issues linked to Japan’s brutal 1910-1945 colonisation of the Korean Peninsula. 

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol visited a memorial to Korean victims, many of them slave labourers, of the 6 August, 1945, atomic bombing.

Washington wants the two neighbours, both of which are liberal democracies and bulwarks of US power in the region, to stand together on a host of issues, including rising aggression from China, North Korea and Russia.

Bolstering international support is a key priority as Ukraine prepares for what’s seen as a major push to take back territory seized by Russia in the war that began in February last year.

“Japan. G7. Important meetings with partners and friends of Ukraine. Security and enhanced cooperation for our victory. Peace will become closer today,” Zelenskyy tweeted after his arrival.

Hanging over Sunday’s talks was the Russian claim that its forces and the Wagner private army had seized the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. The eight-month battle for the eastern city – seen by both sides as a major symbolic prize – has been the longest and likely bloodiest of the war.

Comments by Zelenskyy earlier in the day suggested that the Russians had finally taken the city. But he and other Ukrainian officials later cast doubt on that assessment, with Zelenskyy telling reporters in Ukrainian: “Bakhmut is not occupied by the Russian Federation as of today.”

US President Joe Biden announced new military aid worth $375 million for Ukraine, saying the  US would provide ammunition and armoured vehicles. That pledge came after his country agreed to allow training on American-made F-16 fighter jets, laying the groundwork for their eventual transfer to Ukraine.

“It is necessary to improve [Ukraine’s] air defence capabilities, including the training of our pilots,” Zelenskyy wrote on his official Telegram channel after meeting Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, one of a number of leaders he talked to.

Zelenskyy also met on the summit’s sidelines with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, their first face-to-face talks since the war, and briefed him on Ukraine’s peace plan, which calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country before any negotiations.

India, the world’s largest democracy, has avoided outright condemnation of Russia’s invasion. While India maintains close ties with the United States and its Western allies, it is also a major buyer of Russian arms and oil.

Summits like the G7 are a chance for leaders to put pressure on one another to align or redouble their diplomatic efforts, according to Matthew Goodman, an economics expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington. “Zelenskyy’s presence puts some pressure on G7 leaders to deliver more — or explain to him directly why they can’t,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticised the G7 summit for aiming to isolate both China and Russia.

“The task has been set loudly and openly: to defeat Russia on the battlefield, but not to stop there, but to eliminate it as a geopolitical competitor. As a matter of fact, any other country that claims some kind of independent place in the world alignment will also be to suppress a competitor. Look at the decisions that are now being discussed and adopted in Hiroshima, at the G7 summit, and which are aimed at the double containment of Russia and China,” he said.

The G7, however, has vowed to intensify the pressure.

“Russia’s brutal war of aggression represents a threat to the whole world in breach of fundamental norms, rules and principles of the international community. We reaffirm our unwavering support for Ukraine for as long as it takes to bring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace,” the group said in a statement.

Another major focus of the meetings was China, the world’s No. 2 economy.

There is increasing anxiety that Beijing, which has been steadily building up its nuclear weapons program, could try to seize Taiwan by force, sparking a wider conflict. China claims the self-governing island as its own and regularly sends ships and warplanes near it.

The G7 said they did not want to harm China and were seeking “constructive and stable relations” with Beijing, “recognizing the importance of engaging candidly with and expressing our concerns directly to China.”

They also urged China to pressure Russia to end the war in Ukraine and “support a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.”

China’s Foreign Ministry said that “gone are the days when a handful of Western countries can just willfully meddle in other countries’ internal affairs and manipulate global affairs. We urge G7 members to … focus on addressing the various issues they have at home, stop ganging up to form exclusive blocs, stop containing and bludgeoning other countries.”

The G7 also warned North Korea, which has been testing missiles at a torrid pace, to completely abandon its nuclear bomb ambitions, “including any further nuclear tests or launches that use ballistic missile technology,” the leaders’ statement said.

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Biden to consult with Japan’s Kishida ahead of Group of Seven summit in Hiroshima

U.S. President Joe Biden meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, ahead of the G7 Summit, at RIHGA Royal Hotel Hiroshima, in Hiroshima, Japan, May 18, 2023.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

President Joe Biden arrived in Japan on May 18 with plans to meet privately with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ahead of the larger Group of Seven (G-7) summit — a sign of how the economic and national security alliance between the two countries has strengthened.

Mr. Kishida’s home city of Hiroshima will play host to the gathering of major industrialized nations. The setting of Hiroshima, where the U.S. dropped the first nuclear bomb in 1945 during World War II, carries newfound resonance as the U.S., Japan and their allies strategize on dealing with Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine.

Jake Sullivan, the White House National Security Adviser, said the Russian invasion looms large, and would be a significant conversation during the summit.

“There will be discussions about the battlefield,” Mr. Sullivan said aboard Air Force One, stressing that the G-7 leaders would work to seal off any loopholes in sanctions so their effect can be maximized.

“There’ll be discussions about the state of play on sanctions and the steps that the G-7 will collectively commit to on enforcement in particular.”

Mr. Sullivan said the alliance between the U.S. and Japan was at a “genuine high-water mark.”

He said Mr. Biden and Mr. Kishida, in their meeting, will aim to advance a relationship that’s progressed over the course of the last two years “in every dimension, whether it’s the military dimension of the alliance, the economic dimension, the recently concluded agreement on clean energy, the work we’re doing together on economic security.”

Also read: Biden to meet 18 Pacific leaders in Papua New Guinea

Last year, Mr. Biden came to Tokyo to discuss Indo-Pacific strategy and launch a new trade framework for the region, with the U.S. President and Mr. Kishida engaging in an 85-minute tea ceremony and seafood dinner. The President’s first stop in Japan was to greet U.S. troops at the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, before boarding a helicopter to Hiroshima for the planned 80-minute meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister.

Mr. Kishida was quick to call out the risks of nuclear-power Russia invading Ukraine in 2022, saying then, “Ukraine today could be East Asia tomorrow.”

China has declared a limitless friendship with Russia, increasing trade in ways that blunted the ability of financial sanctions to constrain the war. But the U.S. and its allies say China has yet to ship military equipment to Russia, a sign that the friendship might have some boundaries.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Kishida also have economic matters to consider. The U.S. and Japan have begun to redefine global trade with an eye toward supply chain resilience and national security. They recently signed an agreement on critical mineral supply chains. They’re also cooperating on the development of renewable energy sources and partnering on efforts to limit China’s access to advanced computer chips.

Mr. Kishida hopes to discuss further strengthening of deterrence and response capability with Mr. Biden in the face of China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as confirming the importance of the Taiwan Strait for global peace and stability. China has asserted that self-governing Taiwan should come under its rule. U.S. officials have been briefed on the possible economic damage caused by a war over Taiwan, which would disrupt the supply of advanced computer chips.

Japan is also keen to discuss ways to reinforce its three-way partnership with the U.S. and Seoul following an April agreement between the United States and South Korea to strengthen their tools to deter the risk of a nuclear attack by North Korea.

Mr. Kishida and Mr. Biden will hold a trilateral summit with South Korea’s Yoon Suk Yeol on the sidelines of the G-7 summit. But Mr. Kishida is in a complicated position by discussing efforts to respond to nuclear threats by North Korea with Japan’s history of also calling for a world free from nuclear arms, said Kan Kimura, a Kobe University professor and an expert on South Korea.

In the wake of World War II, Japan embraced pacifism. The atomic bomb scorched Hiroshima, killing 1,40,000 people and destroying most of the river delta city’s buildings. But current conditions are testing Japan’s pacifism and anti-nuclear weapon tradition.

“Mr. Kishida is from Hiroshima, believes deeply in the disarmament agenda,” said Christopher Johnstone, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank. “Of course, Kishida is walking a fine line. He recognizes the need for the nuclear umbrella, Japan’s dependence on U.S. extended deterrence — that that’s more vital than ever, frankly, in the current security environment.”

There are outstanding issues between the U.S. and Japan. During a January meeting with Mr. Kishida, Mr. Biden brought up the case of Lt. Ridge Alkonis, a U.S. Navy officer deployed to Japan who last year was sentenced to three years in prison after pleading guilty to the negligent driving deaths of two Japanese citizens in May 2021, according to a senior administration official. Mr. Alkonis also agreed to pay the victims $1.65 million in restitution. His family is seeking his release, saying he was detained until he confessed.

As much as Mr. Biden believes he has improved relations with U.S. allies, he still faces political turmoil at home. The President on May 17 curtailed part of his trip across the Pacific Ocean. He will skip Papua New Guinea and Australia in order to return to Washington in hopes of finalizing a deal to raise the Federal Government’s debt limit.

“The work that we need to do bilaterally with Australia and with the Pacific Islands is work that can be done at a later date, whereas the final stretch of negotiations over the debt limit or the budget cannot be done at a later date,” Mr. Sullivan said Wednesday.

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