The term “dementia” is nowadays used to describe a syndrome that results, firstly, in cognitive function impairment and in many cases, since effective treatment remains elusive, eventually in death. Dementia is not a specific disease. It's an overall term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person's ability to perform everyday activities.
Dementia is a major socio-economic challenge with care costs approaching 1% of global GDP (WHO Report 2012). Several conditions that lead to serious loss of cognitive ability are grouped under this syndrome, including Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular Dementia, Fronto-temporal Dementia, among others.
This syndrome has markedly adverse effects in the quality of life of tens of millions of people (both patients and caregivers) and exerts tremendous pressure on the healthcare systems of European nations, especially when the clear trends towards an ageing population, changing environmental influences and contemporary lifestyle choices are taken into account. Approximately 35 million people suffer from dementia worldwide –this number is expected to quadruple by 2050. Europe and North America share a disproportionally high burden: the effects of aging are particularly stark for these regions, exacerbating the healthcare provision mandate connected with the dis-ease even further.
The challenges around dementia are underpinned further when diagnosis and treatment are considered. The importance of early and unambiguous diagnosis has been shown to have dramatic benefits for the individual but also for the healthcare system as a whole: delaying the onset of the disease by a mere one year leads to a 10% reduction in symptomatic cases with dramatic consequences on the quality of life for the subjects but also with very significant savings for the healthcare system.
Unfortunately, both early and differential diagnosis, but also robust methods to predict the evolution of disease in a patient-specific manner, and thus decisions on suitable care and hopefully treatment, eludes us. It is exactly these challenges that we will address in this project.