brainscanThe number of people volunteering to take part in dementia research projects has risen by 60% in the past year, according to new figures.

In all, almost 22,000 people took part in research studies to tackle dementia in the past year, according to figures published by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

It is hoped that the increased participation in 100 dementia research projects across the UK will give scientists an advantage in finding new treatments to prevent, treat and eventually cure the condition. 

Current research projects include testing whether antibiotics slow cognitive decline, investigating the role of the immune system in dementia, identifying genetic risk factors and improving end of life care for people with dementia.

The boost in participation numbers has been partly accredited to the Prime Minister’s Challenge on Dementia, launched in March 2012. David Cameron called on the public, charity and private sector to do more to improve diagnosis, care and research into the disease. Following the success of this initiative, the Prime Minister launched the Dementia2020 Challenge that aims to make England the “best place in the world to undertake research into dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases”.

The Challenge also included the aspiration to have 10% of all people with dementia participating in research by 2020. Nationally, 5.5% of people with dementia took part in research in 2014/15, up from 3.7% in 2012/13. 

Another reason for the boost in numbers is the development of Join Dementia Research, an online and telephone service that supports the public to take part in research. 

The service, developed by the NIHR Clinical Research Network in partnership with Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer Scotland, allows anyone – with and without dementia – to register their interest in being approached about research. So far, more than 9,000 people have signed up to Join Dementia Research and 51 research studies use the system to recruit participants.

Government Minister for Life Sciences, George Freeman said: “Dementia is a devastating condition that can have a significant impact on the lives of those affected and their families. 

“Volunteers are essential to our battle against the disease and I’m delighted that so many people – with and without dementia – are coming forward to participate in ground-breaking new trials.

“There is still a long way to go but with their help we hope to find a cure or disease modifying therapy by 2025. The race is on.”

Dr Doug Brown, director of research and development at Alzheimer’s Society, added: “We are delighted that more people affected by dementia are being given the opportunity to take part in vital research. 

“Not only is it essential for us to make progress towards new treatments and better care, but it could also empower people to learn more about their condition and benefit from additional support.”

Chris Roberts, 54, from Rhuddlan in North Wales, has been involved in a genetics study at Bangor University looking into young onset Alzheimer’s. “After a diagnosis of dementia your whole family also receives the diagnosis, it’s a team effort,” he said. “What we then need is hope and this is what research gives us. Taking part means I’m doing something constructive and worthwhile, I’m leaving something behind that might help others, if not myself. Any kind of research, small or large, brings with it hope that there may be a future.”