Leading academics studying the effects and treatment of those suffering from dementia have welcomed a global initiative to pool efforts to confront the disease.

Dementia is technically a ‘syndrome’ and refers to the impairment of cognitive brain functions, of memory, language, perception and thought, caused by a variety of diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease.

In the UK, it is a growing problem and by 2020 there are expected to be almost a million people with the condition.

The UK will host the first G8 dementia summit in London on December 11th to lead international action on tackling the condition.

The summit aims to coordinate work by drugs companies, researchers and clinicians to speed up and improve reactions and treatments for the condition.

Dr Atticus Hainsworth, a neuroscientist at St George’s, leads work on the pathology of blood vessels in older people’s brains. This is a major cause of dementia as roughly 1 in 5 people with dementia have vascular dementia. It is also clear that vascular factors worsen Alzheimer’s disease. He said “Dementia is clearly going to be the 21st century plague. We lack therapies because we don’t know enough about the biology of the ageing brain.”

The consequences for carers, social carers and relatives are also very significant.

Professor Mary Chambers, Professor of Mental Health Nursing in the Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, said: “When considering the care of those with dementia the impact on family or informal carers cannot be ignored. Informal carers are a huge resource to both health and social care agencies and often the unsung heroes in the challenging environment of caring for someone with dementia.

“Professionals need to work in partnership with informal carers and take their needs into consideration in decision making about care giving for those with dementia. If this valuable resource is not recognised and supported the care system will totally collapse.”

The World Health Organisation estimates indicate 35.6 million people worldwide are living with dementia but with an ageing population this figure will nearly double every 20 years, to an estimated 65.7 million in 2030, and 115.4 million in 2050.