Serious gaps in dementia research

From Care and cure magazine - Winter 2015 , find out about a review of the dementia research workforce which revealed some alarming gaps.

A comprehensive review of the dementia research workforce has revealed serious gaps in capacity and recommends measures to attract and retain researchers. 

The Alzheimer's Society report finds that too few researchers are choosing a career in dementia, with five times more people choosing to work on cancer. Retention is also poor, with 70 per cent of those who complete a PhD on dementia leaving the field within four years. 

There is also a critical lack of people from care and clinical professions focusing on dementia research. Less than 2 per cent of the top 200 most prolific UK dementia researchers specialise in social care and social work, even though people with dementia are among the biggest users of adult social care.

The report highlights the many barriers faced by academics, clinicians and care professionals pursuing a research career in this area, including:

  • the lack of a secure career path for researchers, which is an issue in many biological and health fields but amplified in dementia due to the relative scarcity of funding
  • too few mid-level positions that would enable postdoctoral researchers to move into their first independent research post
  • a lack of junior-level posts and PhD studentships for allied health and social care professionals, such as physiotherapists and social workers, to gain experience in dementia research
  • a lingering view that there is not much that can be done for people with dementia and that dementia research has faced many setbacks to date.

Dr Jose Bras, an Alzheimer's Society Research Fellow, says, 'There isn't a system in place that allows researchers like me to move from individual fellowships to academic positions. Although this is not a new problem, it creates insecure career paths that are likely to be driving away some of the bright researchers that the field should do its best to hold on to.' 

In the UK, the cost of dementia to the economy is £26.3 billion, yet less than £74 million was spent by government and charities on research in 2013. Despite this, the review finds that the UK ranks second in the world for the amount of dementia research it produces, punching well above its weight.

'Dementia research is going from strength to strength in the UK but this report highlights that there are still too few people choosing it as a career, especially those from clinical and care professions. We must build the reputation of dementia research to show that it is one of the most cutting-edge areas of research that is poised to make significant advances in the next decade,' says Dr Doug Brown, Director of Research and Development at Alzheimer's Society.

'By attracting and retaining more of the very best researchers in dementia, we will be able to significantly speed up progress towards innovative care and that all-important cure. Alzheimer's Society is leading the way to address this challenge. We have recently invested over £6.5 million to support 75 individuals to develop their careers in dementia research and intend to do much more in the years to come.'