What does the COVID-19 pandemic mean for our dementia research?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Alzheimer's Society is doing everything possible to ensure that we continue to support our current research portfolio and dementia research in the future.

There are so many unknowns as we face this pandemic but one thing we are sure about is that dementia will still be here as we come out the other side of the crisis.

The crisis has intensified the desperate need for new treatments and better care for everyone affected by dementia and must not be forgotten.

Our dementia research today

Every day the COVID-19 crisis continues, the impact on dementia research grows.

Due to the necessary, strict social distancing measures many of our researchers have been locked out of the lab. And many others who work face-to-face with people affected by dementia in the clinic are sadly not able to continue their research studies.

As the biggest dementia charity in the UK and the largest charitable funder of dementia care research, many of our front line researchers who are working to improve care for people with dementia are also clinicians.

As the NHS is under great strain, many have joined the fight against coronavirus.

Our research funding programme 

Alzheimer’s Society, along with all other charities, has been hit hard by the crisis with a huge fall in income. As a research funder, we are already having to make difficult decisions about this year’s research funding.

Our priority at this stage is to  safeguard our current research portfolio and researchers and until we have a better view of the longer term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic we have taken the decision to pause this year’s research funding programme. 

We are enormously proud of the research we are currently funding, which is playing a key role in maintaining momentum in dementia research and supports: 

  • 97 biomedical research projects  
  • 86 care, implementation and public health research projects  
  • Three Centres of Excellence in dementia care research
  • Over 200 dementia researchers including over 70 early career researchers who are the future of dementia research 
  • Our ‘Brains for Dementia Research’ programme – providing high quality brain tissue to researcher across the UK
  • The UK Dementia Research Institute – our biggest ever commitment to dementia research as a founding partner.

Our commitment to dementia research

For over 40 years, Alzheimer’s Society has been committed to supporting dementia research and building capacity in the research community. 

We have seen great strides forward in this time; in diagnostics, in our understanding of dementia and in care and prevention research that is bringing real change to people affected by dementia. 

We will do everything in our power to support our current researchers and their work but also to continue our commitment to dementia research going forward.

We expect to open a new grant round across all funding streams for submission by March/April 2021.

Fiona Carragher, Director of Research and Influencing said: 

‘Everyday the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown continues, the impact on our research grows.

'However we remain committed to protecting our portfolio of world class research today and supporting dementia research in the future.'

‘Whilst we take stock and understand the true impact of the current pandemic on our dementia research, the research community must join forces, maintain the momentum that has been gained in recent years bringing us closer to new treatments, better care and ultimately a cure to ensure that a world without dementia doesn’t slip through our fingers.’

Maintaining momentum

Despite the impact, it’s not all sad news. We are fortunate to support passionate and ever resilient researchers who despite the challenges are adapting and continuing their work wherever possible. 

  • Whilst they are locked out of the lab or the clinic, many of our researchers are analysing data, writing papers and grant applications and adjusting their research schedules so they can continue to progress their research wherever possible.
  • Many research teams who are working with people affected by dementia are adapting their studies so they can continue over the telephone or via video calls.
  • Although many scientific conferences are not able to go ahead, many are moving online so that researchers can continue to share their research, collaborate and learn from each other.
  • Other researchers have risen to the challenge and are working to understand the impact of the current crisis on people with dementia and provide evidence-based support and advice. This has ranged from staying well in isolation and understanding the impact of social support service closures through to supporting COVID-19 testing.

Dr Ryan West, Alzheimer's Society funded researcher at the University of Sheffield, said:

'As research scientists we are accustomed to set backs, things not working and the unexpected happening.

'I don’t believe anyone does the job we do for the money, healthy work-life balance or lifestyle.' 

'We do it because, despite the hard times, we love what we do and hope we can make a difference. This hasn’t changed.'

Alongside incredibly passionate and dedicated researchers, we will overcome this challenge facing dementia research and drive forward this work that becomes more urgent every day. 

Keep up to date with Alzheimer's Society research news

Find out about the latest news from Alzheimer's Society in our quarterly update for researchers. 

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