Alzheimer’s charities say they should not be expected to subsidise a lack of funding from the government for dementia research, following a study which aims to increase capacity for dementia research in the UK.
There are currently nearly one million people affected by dementia in the UK, excluding family members and carers, advises the Defeating Dementia report by Alzheimer’s Research UK. It warns that with an ageing population and without investment in research, these figures could easily escalate.
Asked about barriers to past and future progress in this area, lack of funding was the most common response from a base of 120 researchers working in the dementia field.
“At a time of economic hardship and severe restraints on spending, the obvious response is that there is no money. But if we don’t find ways to invest more in dementia research now, there will be even less money later, due to spiralling care costs and the huge burden of care on family members, which impacts on their economic productivity,” warns the report.
Alzheimer’s Society, one of the largest Alzheimer’s treatment and research charities in the UK, receives more than half of its £61m income from charitable donations and legacies and 38 per cent from grants and contracts. In 2011 it allocated £2.8m to research and actually saw its income given specifically for research rise from £1.7m to £2.5m. But the charity is relying on prudent reserves cover (equivalent to 4.8 months charitable expenditure) in light of the economic uncertainty and the pressure on public spending.
Head of policy at the Alzheimer’s Society, Louise Lakey, supported the report and said that the burden of funding should not be shouldered by charities:
”Charities should not have to plug the gap for government investment. Even in tough times, the government has to spend more if we are ever to offer the thousands of people living with dementia hope of better treatments or a future cure,” she said.
The report further criticises the proportion on funding spent on dementia research, advising that there is a “vast difference” in funding for dementia in comparison to other areas of research, such as cancer, despite having almost double the estimated cost to the UK economy.
“To put things in perspective, Alzheimer’s Research UK is the largest charitable funder of dementia research in the UK. In 2010/11 it invested £5.1m. This is its highest investment to date, but if we compare it to the £322m invested by Cancer Research UK, or the £120.7m by the British Heart Foundation, the scale of disparity becomes clear,” said the report.
Government funding is used as a benchmark for public donations, the report added, citing information gathered by the Office of Health Economics for Cancer Research UK that stated “government funding for research acts as a quality signal for public institutions or charities”.
“More public funding would not only boost research but would also stimulate charitable donations by helping to raise awareness and signalling the importance of dementia research,” the Defeating Dementia report concludes.