National charity joins call for dementia to be top world health priority

07 March 2012

Swanswell’s welcoming calls from a leading expert in dementia to make the condition a top world health priority along with cancer, lung disease, diabetes and chronic heart disease.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The Today Programme (7 March 2012), Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that due to lack of funding and research into dementia ‘we’re going into the next global health time bomb’.

Swanswell agrees that more needs to be done to tackle the condition and is about to launch a clinical study into the treatment and possible reversal of one increasing form of dementia brought on by problematic, long term drinking.

It’s estimated that up to 90,000 people in the UK could have been misdiagnosed with incurable forms of dementia, when in fact they may be suffering from a form of the condition called alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI), which can potentially be reversed with the right treatment.

ARBI has a range of symptoms, including those related to early onset dementia and includes memory loss, balance problems and irrational behaviour, making diagnosis difficult. The condition is brought on by prolonged, significant alcohol consumption.

Swanswell, a national charity which wants to achieve a society free from problem alcohol and drug use, first published research in to alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI) in 20101.

There are around 750,000 people with dementia in the UK, and studies suggest that ARBI accounts for between ten and 12 per cent of cases2. This would suggest 75,000 to 90,000 patients could be affected by ARBI.

Swanswell’s developed a model of treatment that it’s trialling as part of three pilot studies beginning next month (April) in the Midlands and South Yorkshire after recently being granted approval from the NHS National Research Ethics Service (NRES).

Chris Robinson, Swanswell’s Director of Services, is pleased that the seriousness of dementia is again being recognised.    

She said: ‘Swanswell welcomes calls from Professor Piot to make tackling dementia a top health priority for the World Health Organisation because it’s  a serious, life changing condition.

Not many people are aware that regular heavy drinking can lead to early onset dementia, amongst other problems – it’s a frightening prospect. However, diagnosed early and with the right treatment, the effects can be reversed.

‘Studies show that with treatment, a quarter of people with alcohol related early onset dementia recover completely. Another quarter recover enough to lead independent lives3.

We know of  people as young as 28 presenting with early onset dementia related to their drinking and an increasing number are women, so everyone needs to be aware that this could happen to them. It may already be happening to them or their loved ones.’

For more details of the ARBI clinical trial, please contact Chris Robinson at Swanswell on 01788 559400.


1. Swanswell (2010). The development of a multi-disciplinary programme for the treatment of alcohol related brain injury. Advances 
in Dual Diagnoses, Volume 3 Issue 2, May 2010: Peer Professional Ltd

2. Lishman WA (1990) Alcohol and the brain. British Journal of Psychiatry 156 635–644 and Harvey RJ, Rossor MN, Skelton-
Robinson M & Garralda E (1998) Young Onset Dementia: Epidemiology, clinical symptoms, family burden, support and outcome
London: Imperial College Dementia Research Group

3. Smith I & Hillman A (1999) Management of alcohol Korsakoff syndrome. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 5 271–278








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