Singing for the Brain choir event in aid of the Alzheimer's Society
© Charlie Bibby/FT

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Researchers in dementia could be forgiven for being pessimistic after a seemingly endless string of drug trial flops. Will we ever be able to find a cure for the disease affecting 50m people worldwide and costing the world economy more than $800bn a year, the FT asks in a new special report on dementia.

But amid the gloom, there are reasons to be cheerful. We are gaining more understanding of how the disease develops, including a study this week that showed how its onset can be delayed by physical fitness among women. And innovations with tools such as virtual reality are helping us better empathise with sufferers.

Moreover, if cures remain years away, there is a thriving set of programmes dedicated to easing the life of those living with the disease. A theatre in the north of England is staging “dementia-friendly” productions, while museums and even football clubs are playing valuable roles.

We also report this week on the cottage industry of interventions using music that is coalescing into a UK-wide campaign, including the appointment of an ambassador to raise awareness. The move illustrates an important point: can dementia campaigners learn from the star-studded consciousness-raising used for other diseases such as Aids?

Read the full report: Combating dementia
Listen to the podcast: Harnessing music to help dementia sufferers


Russians in rude health Vladimir Putin is taking credit for a large turnround in Russians' health as he approaches re-election this weekend. Smoking and drinking have dropped sharply, fewer men are dying young and gyms are packed. Critics counter that public health provision is still chronically underfunded. (FT)

Transformational business award

Know of an innovative health company? The deadline is approaching for the 2018 FT/IFC transformational business award. We are looking for innovative companies addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals including health, particularly in fragile and conflict-riven states. Full details here.

News round-up

The US and global health The White House said a report on global health security showed “how the investments made by taxpayers to improve global health security are paying dividends”. But critics accused the president of undermining international health partnerships. (White House, GHSA, Slate)

China changes China's new international development co-operation agency is set to play a key role in projecting the country's influence abroad while shake-ups at home could bolster anti-smoking efforts. (Washington Post, Science)

Bad blood Elizabeth Holmes, chief executive of Theranos, was charged with "massive fraud" by the Securities and Exchange Commission over exaggerated or false statements about the performance of the blood analysis company. The US regulator said: “Innovators who seek to revolutionise and disrupt an industry must tell investors the truth about what their technology can do today, not just what they hope it might do someday.” (FT) 

Air emergency A report from UK MPs said air pollution was a “national health emergency,”calling for a Clean Air Act and for the car industry to contribute to a new clean air fund. Air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 early deaths and costs the UK £20bn each year. Listen to our podcast on air pollution and health. (UK Parliament, FT)

What is Novichok? The poison used on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was the Novichok nerve agent, part of the “N-series” developed by the former Soviet Union in the 1970s. This followed the “G-series” made by Germany in the 1930s and the “V-series” made by the UK in the 1950s. (New Scientist)

Don't worry . . . Hungarians are the most perturbed about healthcare, according to a new poll, possibly due to long waits in hospitals and reports of corruption. Countries such as Turkey that have at least some form of universal free access to care are the least anxious. (World Economic Forum)

. . . be happy Finland is the world's happiest country, according to the World Happiness Report, calculated on benchmarks such as GDP per capita, levels of social support, life expectancy and levels of corruption. Finns cite access to nature, safety, childcare, good schools and free healthcare. Research shows that people who pursue happiness actually become unhappy. (LSE World Happiness Report, Reuters, Psychonomic Bulletin)

Homeopathy crackdown A major London centre of homeopathy will no longer be able to spend NHS money, leaving just Bristol and Glasgow offering treatments using the oft-derided therapy. The NHS itself says: "There is no good-quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition." (BBC)

Brexit battles Talk of a “Brexit dividend” for the NHS does not stack up because of threats to funding, staffing, patients' rights and access to drugs, says a new report. The NHS chief said however that Brexit might offer an opportunity to cut obesity by allowing the UK to reframe food and drink regulations. (FT, UK in a Changing Europe, Telegraph)

Hold off the beef in black bean sauce UK campaigners are calling for Chinese meals to carry a salt warning. Some contain more than half an adult's daily allowance. “Reducing salt is the most cost effective measure to reduce the number of people dying or suffering from strokes or heart disease.” (Action on Salt, BBC)

Art and medicine A project in Nigeria is using art to decrease anxiety and transform the patient experience. (Nigeria Health Watch video)

Best from the Journals

Poor drug quality Research in Brazil showed a cheap form of asparaginase the country was buying to treat child cancer was contaminated. Buying a new drug based on its price alone is not safe. Developing countries are especially vulnerable to cheaper alternatives that lack solid quality assurance. (eBiomedicine)

The ‘obesity paradox’ A large study challenges the idea that you can be overweight or obese without an increased risk of heart disease. The chances of heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure all increase as a person's body mass index rises above 22-23kg/m². (European Heart Journal)

Coca-Cola's ‘war’ with public health Insights from industry documents on how Coca-Cola allegedly funded and supported the Global Energy Balance Network as a “weapon” to “change the conversation” about obesity. (BMJ)

Machine learning Machine learning in health research is valuable but the old maxim of “garbage in, garbage out” is still relevant. New tools also have no guarantee of fairness or veracity: human analysis is still necessary. It is also important to consider the ethical issues involved. (Jama, New England Journal of Medicine)

US health spend The US spends double that of its peers on health but lags behind in outcomes. It has the highest per capita spending on pharmaceuticals, the highest percentage of overweight and obese people and the lowest life expectancy. (Jama, Stat chart)

Healthy kids, healthy economy Each pound spent on a UK child's health returns more than £10 to society over a lifetime, according to the head of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Heath. With its high proportion of young people, the country could reap substantial benefits, yet child health outcomes are worse than those of its peers. (BMJ)

Don't blame video games The long-term effect of playing violent action games has been hotly debated by researchers but a new study concludes it does not make adults more aggressive. (Molecular Pyschiatry)

Death maps A new series of US county-level maps shows large regional differences in deaths from alcohol and drug use, self-harm and violence from 1980 to 2014. The findings may help clinicians, health authorities and policymakers better address the inequalities in their communities. (Jama)

Podcast of the week

Unprofessionalism A discussion with Jo Shapiro of the Center for Professionalism and Peer Support on damaging behaviour among health professionals and how to set up environments that allow victims to speak out and perpetrators to be confronted. (BMJ, 47m)

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Final thought

Hawking and health Amid the worldwide tributes to Professor Stephen Hawking who died this week, his activism in health policy was somewhat overlooked. As the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland put it: “His death is a loss to our understanding of the universe, but it also represents an earthier blow. We have lost that rarest of human beings: a campaigner who, when he spoke, compelled the world to listen.”

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