Which diseases are the most expensive?

By Pekka Simula 17 August 2016

At least in Finland many believe that cancer and cardiovascular diseases remain our top healthcare burdens. It is difficult to compare the human suffering associated with diseases however based on the societal costs brain disorders are actually twice as large a disease group as cancer and cardiovascular together. In Europe, the annual expenses related to brain disorders was estimated in 2010 at €800 billion. In Finland, they cost us approximately €8.6 billion each year. That’s massively more than the much-debated savings target of our country’s government for their entire 4-year period.

Obviously ‘brain disorders’ is a broad term. It’s an umbrella covering dementia, neurodegenerative diseases, mental disorders, and many others. Unfortunately one of their common denominators is long-term disability. Full recovery may take years if at all achievable. Many patients will require daily support for the rest of their lives, as damages associated with brain disorders are too often irreversible. A cardiac patient can get a new life thanks to bypass surgery; but we don’t know how to rewire the brains of an Alzheimer’s patient. These challenges such as lost productivity and the need for supported living contribute significantly to the societal costs of brain disorders.

Yet it seems that awareness of brain diseases isn’t on par with the other main disease groups. A heart is a heart, cancer is cancer. What if your mind doesn’t function? When one’s feet disobey, hands wave out of control, behavior is abnormal, or memory fails totally? That is often frightening, weird. And it’s even hard for the media to turn weirdoes into heroes. Much easier to write about those who defeat cancer then climb the Everest, and forget the weirdoes in facilities.

However forgetting doesn’t wipe away the enormous expenses we all must cover. The one and only thing that helps is long-term research that helps us find better treatments for those diseases and optimally prevent them. An evaluation of research investments by the US NINDS concluded in 2006 that their annual return on investment was 46% thanks to health improvements. Where else could the government dream of such ROI?

The most important investment is still up to us. An appropriate amount of exercise for the body and mind combined with a healthy lifestyle.

Herantis is again organising the Brain Diseases Symposium intending to increase the awareness of brain disorders and national research collaboration. The event will be held at the University of Helsinki on October 14, 2016 and its program committee is also represented by the Universities of Helsinki, Eastern Finland, and Turku; and Helsinki University Hospital, Biogen, Nokia, and Pharma Industry Finland.