Doctors, scientists call Health Minister to focus on dementia prevention

Dozens of doctors, professors and other scientists called on the Dutch government to give more attention to preventative measures against dementia. A strong commitment to prevention can lead to a significant decrease in new patients, they said in an open letter addressed to Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health and published by NRC. 

The authors of the letter called dementia the most expensive disease in the Netherlands. Over 9 billion euros of the Public Health, Welfare and Sports budget is reserved for caring for people with dementia. And these costs will only increase. The number of people with dementia is expected to double to over 500 thousand patients by 2040.

The disease is not only at the front financially. "Dementia is also a front-runner in terms of personal suffering and burden of disease. The disease takes the most healthy years of life away from the Dutch population and puts a lot of pressure on many care givers", the doctors and scientists wrote.

International scientists believe that 30 to 40 percent of dementia diagnoses are caused by risk factors that can be influenced. This includes factors like exercise, healthy blood sugar and blood pressure, healthy diet and weight, not smoking, enough sleep, and social interaction. 

"There is a broad consensus that seriously tackling prevention can lead to 20 percent fewer new patients per year in 12 years. Projected on the Dutch situation, that means a cautious estimate of a decrease of 5,000 new patients per year and a cost saving that can rise to 2 billion euros per year in the long term", the doctors and scientists wrote in their letter.

The signatories call on Minister De Jonge to immediately commit to a strong preventive policy. 

De Jonge is currently working on a new strategy to tackle dementia. "Dementia is fast becoming the number 1 disease. That is why we need to invest more in dementia research. Investing in prevention is part of that", he said, according to newspaper AD. The Ministry of Public Health recently announced that it is doubling its research budget for the coming period from 8 million to 16 million euros per year.

Research into treatment is very important, but cannot be the only focus when it comes to dementia, Martijn van Winkelhof, one of the lead authors of the joint letter, said to NOS. "Many of billions of euros have been invested in the development of a medicine for dementia and Alzheimer's in the last 30 years without such a medicine being found", he said. "Everything indicates that prevention can achieve more for the time being."

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