A recently published, detailed study of brain disorders in Denmark shows that the direct costs of treating patients suffering from brain disorders amount to at least DKK 39 billion every year. ‘This is a highly significant study, and it emphasises the importance of giving research into brain disorders a boost,’ says Jan Egebjerg, Director of Research at the Lundbeck Foundation.
As average life expectancy increases in many parts of the world, so does the incidence of a range of brain disorders that typically present in the elderly. These include Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. However, we are also seeing a substantial rise in psychiatric disorders in the younger age groups.
This puts strain on the health system and, at the same time, endangers the Danish welfare model. But how much do brain disorders actually cost the Danish health service?
Both in terms of number of patients and measured in lost earnings and money spent on treatment.
These are some of the issues addressed by the research project. The Lundbeck Foundation – which devotes around DKK 400 million every year to Danish brain research – helped fund the project with a grant of DKK 3 million.
Researchers at Aarhus University (AU) and Aarhus University Hospital (AUH) designed and conducted a detailed study of the amounts we spend on patients with brain disorders here in Denmark. The research team from Aarhus, spearheaded by Christian Fynbo Christiansen, Consultant in Clinical Epidemiology and Clinical Associate Professor, recently published the research project in the internationally renowned scientific journal BMJ Open.
Affects one in five Danes
The research project maps what the researchers have defined as the 25 most significant brain disorders, including psychiatric disorders, dementia disorders, brain tumours, sleep disorders, stress, depression, concussion and strokes. Drug and alcohol addiction are also included.
‘What these disorders have in common is that they all involve the brain in some sense,’ says Christian Fynbo Christiansen. He adds that we could undoubtedly include other disorders in this definition, but these 25 were chosen because they account for the majority of brain disorders and impose the greatest burden.
The cost analysis is a so-called register-based cohort study, and the researchers monitored all Danish patients who were diagnosed with a brain disorder between 1995 and 2014.
Among other things, the cost analysis shows that:
- During the course of the study, one in five Danes were affected by a brain disorder, the most common being concussion, stress, stroke and depression.
- Within the first year after diagnosis, the mortality rate among people suffering from a brain disorder is statistically five times higher than for the rest of the population.
- The direct cost of treating patients with brain disorders in Denmark is around DKK 39 billion a year.
- The indirect cost of brain disorders in Denmark, especially in terms of loss of productivity, is estimated at no less than DKK 84 billion annually.
The research team points out that the figures only include costs associated with patients who have been in contact with hospital services. Consequently, the study does not include patients treated solely by their GP. And there are others who are never diagnosed as having a brain disorder. Therefore, the true figures for patients with a brain disorder and the associated cost to society will most likely be considerably higher.
As Jan Egebjerg says, the overall conclusion of the study is that – in addition to the cost to the individual – brain disorders pose a huge challenge to society:
‘Brain disorders put the Danish welfare model under strain. The consequences for the patients and their relatives are enormous – and the problem will only get worse due to our ageing population. Therefore, we need to give brain research a boost so that Denmark can become one of the leading brain research nations in the world.’
In Jan Egebjerg’s opinion, in order to achieve this goal, the Danish business community and Danish universities will need to be even more prepared to collaborate to find solutions:
‘There’s no great tradition for this type of partnership in Denmark. Unfortunately, this means that we miss out on innovative healthcare solutions as well as opportunities arising from new healthcare companies settling here, including those seeking to develop therapies for brain disorders.’