The longest walk in the world.
Ottawa’s Matt Dineen calls it the longest walk in the world, the lonely steps down the corridor of the long-term care facility after a visit with his wife, Lisa.
Just 44, Lisa was diagnosed last year with frontotemporal dementia, a form of dementia that accounts for as much as 50 per cent of cases in people under 65.
“When she’s been out with us and I drop her back off, it’s the longest walk in the world,” said Dineen, speaking to reporters at a press conference Tuesday called by NDP MP Claude Gravelle.
Dineen said he was sharing his young family’s painful story in a bid to highlight the need for a national strategy to address a projected doubling of dementia cases in Canada by 2031.
Dementia is front and centre on the international stage as health ministers and experts from G8 countries, including Health Minister Rona Ambrose, meet in London, England Wednesday to discuss the impending health-care crisis.
On Tuesday a House of Commons finance committee recommended in a report that “the federal government move expeditiously on the creation and implementation” of a national plan to deal with the disease, but Ambrose was mum on the subject. She was, however, expected to speak on the topic from London Wednesday.
Meanwhile critics were quick to point out Canada is one of the only countries at the summit table without a comprehensive national strategy. Gravelle said he hoped the international attention would rally support for his private-member bill C-356, drafted in 2011 which calls for a five-point federal dementia plan.
Gravelle said Ottawa should take a leadership role by co-ordinating research, early diagnosis and prevention efforts with provinces and territories, as well as boosting training and support for health-care professionals and family caregivers.
We need to keep people in their homes for as long as possible, Gravelle said.
The Canadian Medical Association echoed the call.
CMA president-elect Dr. Chris Simpson said Canada has no time to waste in formulating a plan, considering dementia cases are expected to hit 1.4 million by 2031, up from 750,000 today.
While the human toll of dementia is terrible and heart wrenching, Simpson said the financial toll could also cripple the Canadian health-care system if not properly managed.
Dementia already costs Canadians $33 billion annually, he said. By 2040, some estimates put the cost at nearly $300 billion per year.
“Which is more than the total amount we spend on health care in Canada right now.”
The CMA has asked the federal government for $25 million over five years to put together a plan, according to a House of Commons finance committee report.
Simpson recognized that establishing a national plan for Canada would be a challenge because health care falls under provincial jurisdiction. Still, he said, the federal government could play a role in ensuring minimum standards and best practices are shared between the provinces and territories so that “we’re not reinventing the wheel 13 times.”
“It’s really leadership, I think, that we need. That’s where the federal government can help,” Simpson said.
In a written statement Tuesday, Ambrose touted Canada’s reputation as a leader in Alzheimer’s and dementia research.
Since 2006, the federal government has contributed more than $860 million to neurological research and $100 million to the research of brain disorders, including dementia, and is considered a world leader in research, her statement said.
Dr. Alain Beaudet, president of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, said Canada should continue to focus on its role as part of an international consortium of countries collaborating on dementia research and prevention.
“It’s an area that for the country has been a priority for many years,” he said from London, where he was attending the summit with Ambrose.
Though research is only one part of the national plan dementia advocates are hoping for, Beaudet said it is the key to improving standards of care and reducing the burden on families. In addition to better treatment and prevention, research advances in information technology could lead to sophisticated monitoring systems and housing environments that will allow dementia patients to remain in their homes longer.
But the very fact that the issue is on the radar of G8 countries should be encouraging in itself, he said.
“The best way to tackle this problem is by working together.”