Time for a new national Alzheimer strategy

Amherst News/Citizen Record

Geoff deGannes is the past chairman of the Tantramar Radio Society. His daily commentaries can be heard on 107.9 CFTA.

With an aging demographic and Canadians living longer, we are confronting the reality that the numbers of seniors who will be at risk of developing dementia will further tax our already overburdened health care system in the years to come.

Last month, we were reminded that the numbers will grow exponentially. The World Health Organization is predicting that the number of people living with dementia is expected to triple by 2050.

The WHO estimates there are 50 million people currently living with dementia. That number is expected to soar to 82 million by 2030, and to 152 million by 2050.  The UN groups says between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s adults over the age of 60 is expected to almost double, increasing from 900 million to two billion people. While most will have good mental health, many will be at risk of dementia.

The WHO released the estimates as it announced a global monitoring system that will track countries’ progress on providing services for people with dementia. The Global Dementia Observatory will monitor the presence of national policies and plans, risk reduction and care measures.

We reached a milestone in this country in 2017 with the federal government finally passing legislation to develop a national dementia strategy. The Alzheimer Society of Canada has long called for a national dementia strategy to enhance research efforts and ensure access to quality care and support so that Canadians with dementia can have the best quality of life.

Now that Canada has committed to such a strategy, work begins on implementation. Hopefully, the new strategy will mirror what has proven successful in other countries including awareness raising, care coordination, research funding, training for health care professionals and sharing of best practices.

About 747,000 Canadians are living with some form of dementia and the society says this number is slated to double to 1.4 million in less than 20 years. The risk of dementia doubles every five years after age 65.

Mary Schulz, director of education at the Alzheimer Society of Canada, says Alzheimer’s is often misunderstood, and sufferers are vulnerable to being stereotyped.    She dispels one underlying myth that when a person is diagnosed with dementia we automatically think that that diagnosis makes them immediately completely incapable of doing anything or being the same kind of person that they have been all their lives.   There are many ways to help change societal attitudes toward dementia, including learning the facts of the disease, avoiding making light of the condition, and maintaining relationships with people with dementia, especially as the disease progresses.

Developing a broad new national strategy can’t come soon enough to address what has already become an urgent health care concern among Canada’s elderly.