Hugo de Jonge, the Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, announced last month that he would be making additional funds available for dementia research. He intends to double the budget (€48 million) that has already been set aside until 2020 for addressing dementia. De Jonge is convinced that better treatments need to be developed. 'It is well on its way to becoming the number-one public disease,' he said in this television programme.
According to Ingrid Philippens, who studies neurodegenerative diseases (Parkinson's and Alzheimer's) at BPRC, this budget increase reflects the fact that society is aware of the gravity of such diseases. 'Naturally, we do not yet know where the money will be going, but in any case the government does realise this is a major problem. Because it certainly is one – not just for the individuals concerned, but also for their entire circle.'
'It's never just Alzheimer's'
Last year, Ingrid emphasised in this article that it's never just Alzheimer's that people must deal with. 'They often develop this disease later in life and frequently have a whole history behind them, with all kinds of conditions. Plenty of illnesses that people have had in the past or that they still have can play a role. For example, it has been demonstrated that diabetes increases your chance of developing Alzheimer's – yet we often talk about Alzheimer's on the basis of the symptoms and the clinical picture at the end.'
'We still know very little about the real cause'
Ingrid explains why it is important that as much money as possible is spent on biomedical research. 'We still know very little about the real cause, so if you don't know how it develops, you can only try to alleviate the symptoms. This means you can't really address the disease and prevent it at an early stage. This requires more knowledge. When people are finally diagnosed with dementia, the process has been ongoing for years. You are long past the stage where you can determine a cause.'
Especially the fact that we know so little makes research so very important. 'There are still major advances to be made,' says Ingrid. 'Currently, we are following the same research direction as everyone else, and we may well discover at a later juncture that this is the wrong one. But that's the way research works. It's always worth the money. Every step helps.'