One of the world’s leading dementia experts, Dr Ron Petersen, spoke in Sydney at NSW Parliament House as part of a national speaking tour for Dementia Awareness Month in September to support Alzheimer’s Australia in its call for a fully-funded, national strategy to tackle the growing challenge of dementia, which affects the lives of seven in 10 Australians.
Dr Petersen – who also spoke at the National Press Club in Canberra, along with Alzheimer’s Australia NSW Ambassador Ita Buttrose AO, OBE to mark World Alzheimer’s Day on September 21 – presented on the latest insights and findings in dementia research, the importance of early diagnosis, as well as current diagnostic techniques, how the diagnosis is made, treatment options and future directions.
Dr Petersen is the Director of the US Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and was appointed by US President Barack Obama’s Administration to head up the Advisory Council for the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA), which is an integrated national plan to overcome Alzheimer’s disease in the US by 2025.
Dr Petersen, who was also Ronald Reagan’s personal physician and treated the former President of the USA’s Alzheimer’s disease, said dementia is undoubtedly the biggest health and care challenge facing the world today.
“The NAPA, which is the first of its kind in the US, has enabled opportunities for significant advancements in our efforts to combat Alzheimer’s disease by focusing everyone in America’s attention to the challenges of dementia. It is a robust framework with measurable, publically-reported outcomes that transcends the political cycle,” Dr Petersen said.
“It also resulted in a historic increase in federal funding for research from $450 million at the beginning of NAPA to $991million in 2016 to tackle Alzheimer’s disease, focusing on increasing and sustaining funding for research and supporting people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and their families.
“The value of a national approach to addressing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease not only has the potential to create the same success that has been demonstrated in the fights against other diseases, such as influenza and pneumonia, it allows governments to assess whether the nation is meeting the challenges of the condition, for people living with dementia, their families, for communities as well as the nation’s economy.”
Alzheimer’s Australia National CEO Maree McCabe said with 353,800 Australians currently living with dementia and that figure expected to rise to more than 900,000 by 2050, drastic action was needed on dementia now.
“Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia, the Federal Government has officially named it a National Health Priority, yet Australia still does not have a National Dementia Strategy to tackle this issue,” Ms McCabe said.
“As a nation, we simply cannot ignore the impact this disease is having on the lives of Australians. There is both a social and economic imperative to take a more national, holistic approach, as has been done in other countries such as the US and the UK, so people affected by dementia can experience much better outcomes.”
Alzheimer’s Australia has, for some time, been calling for a strategic, coordinated National Dementia Strategy with measurable outcomes based on the National Framework for Action on Dementia 2015-2019. The Framework identifies key areas for action but without funding and long term commitment little progress will be made in developing better supports for people with dementia. A National Dementia Strategy would focus on:
Dr Petersen was also appointed to the World Dementia Council in 2014 by the then UK Prime Minister, David Cameron. The World Dementia Council unites leading experts from across the global dementia community to find solutions to the devastating condition.