Dementia G8 Summit – what role can impact investors play?
Dementia currently affects more than 800,000 people in the UK. One in three over 65’s will die with some sort of dementia. And, it’s a growing problem. New statistics released by Alzheimer’s Disease International (ADI) last week reported that 44 million people worldwide now have dementia, and this is expected to reach 135 million by 2050.
These numbers are staggering. According to the Alzheimer's Society dementia is now the most feared health condition in over 55’s and costs the economy £23 billion a year, more than cancer, stroke or heart disease combined.
Today’s G8 summit is an important step in starting to think about how we address the issue and will hopefully lead to meaningful action that will have a long term impact.
So what can we do?
After more than a century of research into dementia there is still much we do not know about the condition and how (or if) it can be cured. This makes dementia one of the most important fields for medical research. Some positive developments are happening, for example, Kings College are making progress on developing diagnosis tests and treatments for the disease. David Cameron has today announced the UK will aim to double its annual funding for dementia research to £132m by 2025 – a positive sign, but this is still only a quarter of what is spent on cancer research in the UK.
While there is (currently) no cure for dementia, research suggests it can be prevented and the symptoms slowed down. Those involved in this space will be all too familiar with the ‘use it or lose it’ advice offered by experts. We know that keeping active has a positive effect on reducing the risk of dementia and managing the cognitive decline. More recent research shows that keeping physically active also has a positive impact on cognitive ability, which innovative organisations such as Oomph are helping to do.
Many people think dementia is a normal part of ageing, but it’s not. Dementia is a chronic disease which affects the brain and can lead to loss of memory, difficulty with language, impaired reasoning and a change of personality.
Prevention and early intervention are key. Currently, less than half of those living with dementia have a diagnosis. We need to raise awareness and understanding of dementia by putting accessible and actionable information in the public’s hands. Campaigns such as Dementia Awareness Week and Dementia Friend are working to raise awareness and organisations like Neighbourhood Return are encouraging community action. We need to support such organisations and build on their momentum so that people have the knowledge to recognise and manage the disease.
Investing in social innovation
The need for innovation in ageing is well recognised. A lot of the current effort is directed towards macro issues: medical advancements, the redesign of the pension welfare.
But some of the key areas that social innovators and investors could help address (and some already are) include social issues, such as how we:
- engage older people and provide opportunities to stay socially connected and active for as long as possible;
- enable people with dementia to live independently for longer;
- enable people with dementia to lead a more fulfilling daily life; and
- make things easier for the carers of people with dementia.
This is a field ripe for social and digital innovations. There is huge opportunity here for developing solutions that help people live better with dementia. As impact investors, we aim to identify and support such innovations to growth so that they can reach as many lives as possible. Importantly, we need to work together to evaluate the impact of these solutions so that so that we can contribute to the growing body of research on what interventions work.
We look forward to seeing what comes out of the G8 Summit today. With co-ordinated and systemic action hopefully the landscape will look much different in ten years’ time.
As ever, we would welcome your views and a chance to talk with others who are working in this space. Contact us on [email protected]