If there is one way to make government, and those that hold the purse strings, sit up and take notice of something, it is to put it in financial terms. Especially if the numbers involved are big ones.
So, a figure of £23 billion – the cost of dementia annually in the UK – is bound to have piqued the interest.
This is one of the findings of the Dementia 2010 report from the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, which also reveals that there are 820,000 people in the UK with dementia – a rise of 120,000 on the previously accepted figure.
Usually when these ‘so-and-so costs the UK x each year’ statistics crop up, I take them with a pinch of salt; rarely do you get told how they arrived at their figure, and sometimes you get the feeling they have made it up for dramatic effect.
But in this case, the University of Oxford, which carried out the research, show their working out; adding up the costs of healthcare, social care, unpaid carers and productivity losses, and arriving at a grand total of £27,647 for each person with dementia.
So, with such costs, you would think that research into finding a cure for/preventing dementia would be well funded. Wrong. Dementia research receives £50 million per year, a fraction of the £600 million spent on cancer research, for example, and a drop in the ocean compared to its cost to the economy.
Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, has called dementia “the greatest medical challenge of the 21st century.” While that may be slightly hyperbolic, with the number of people with the condition estimated to hit 1 million in the next 15 years, it is certainly an increasing challenge that needs to be tackled.
In financial terms, increasing the research budget is a no-brainer. Even if researchers were to find a drug that just delays or slows the onset – more effectively than those already available – it would save billions.
It is a pretty convincing argument, and one the government should listen to and deliver on. In today’s financial climate, can they afford not to?