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OPINION
Canadians need National Dementia Strategy to avert ‘looming crisis’: Sen. Eggleton and Sen. Ogilvie
February 22, 2017
Image of Art Eggleton
Art Eggleton, Ontario
Image of Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie
Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie, Nova Scotia

An open letter to Health Minister, the Hon. Jane Philpott

Dear Minister Philpott,

After months of hearing Canadians pour their hearts out about how dementia affects them, and listening to medical experts and advocates call for a National Dementia Strategy, we wanted to reiterate our belief that a nationally-coordinated effort is needed to address this looming crisis.

The Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology hosted a successful panel discussion on Parliament Hill on January 30, 2017.

We invited half a dozen panelists, including the chief operating officer of the Alzheimer Society of Canada, the vice-president of the Canadian Geriatrics Society, a university professor who specializes in dementia care, and a noted neurologist. We also heard from Michael Duncan, a retired naval officer from Ottawa, who is now living with dementia, and his wife Katherine, who has become his caregiver.

The rise of dementia in Canada is a grave concern. The number of people with some form of the disorder is expected to double over the next 15 years — to 1.4 million in 2031 from 750,000 today.

We listened to the stories of people living with dementia and their caregivers. There’s a stigma attached to the disease that makes people who are first diagnosed feel like they want to disappear and be isolated from society. It’s unfair, unnecessary and tragic.

Canada needs to provide better information to them, better support to help them live independently as long as they can, better assisted living options, and ultimately better long-term and palliative care.

Dementia also imposes enormous pressures on caregivers — usually a spouse — who, out of necessity, are thrust into a role they never dreamed they’d have but would never dream of abandoning. Canada must provide better support for them, including training, homecare support and respite options to give them a short break so they can handle their new responsibilities and even financial assistance or tax breaks to manage the unexpected costs.

Across Canada, wonderful work is being done to remove the stigma associated with other diseases and social problems like mental health, bullying and violence against women.

A similar effort is required to educate Canadians about dementia. Leading a widespread public awareness campaign is something the Public Health Agency of Canada could do.

As you know, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology recently studied the impact dementia has on our society. The committee tabled its report, Dementia in Canada: A National Strategy for Dementia-Friendly Communities, in the Senate in November.

There has been overwhelming support for our report and especially the key recommendations to create a Canadian Partnership to Address Dementia which would develop a National Dementia Strategy. This was one of the 29 recommendations contained in that report.

The panel discussion was meant to build on the committee’s report by giving the people most involved in the struggle against dementia a forum in which to offer their insights, their experiences and their knowledge. They are the experts. We must listen to them if we are to beat back this crisis.

It is worth noting, Minister, the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology also just completed a very successful electronic media campaign on dementia’s impact. Over a month, many people shared a social media message indicating their support for a National Dementia Strategy.

As Canadians begin to more fully understand dementia and how it affects them, they are increasingly aware of the need to address this challenge differently than we have been.

We ask you, Minister, and your government to act on our recommendation to create a Canadian Partnership to Address Dementia and to implement a National Dementia Strategy and to do so without delay.

Senator Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie
Senator Art Eggleton

Nova Scotia Senator Kelvin Kenneth Ogilvie is chair of the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Ontario Senator Art Eggleton is the committee’s deputy chair.

This article appeared in the February 16, 2017 edition of the Ottawa Citizen.