Budget answers long-standing calls for federal strategy on dementia

The Canadian Press

MARCH 20, 2019 09:02 AM

OTTAWA — Health advocacy groups and MPs are cheering the Liberal government’s proposal to spend $50 million over five years to support a national dementia strategy that’s to be released later this spring.

Tuesday’s pre-election budget from Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the plan is to improve the lives of people living with dementia, and those of their caregivers, through better public awareness of the challenges posed by progressive disorders affecting the brain. article continues below 

Figures cited in the federal budget say more than 400,000 Canadian seniors were living with dementia in 2013-14, two-thirds of them women. Symptoms can include memory loss, challenges with language and changes in behaviour.

Groups like the Alzheimer Society, which have long urged Ottawa to take action, welcomed the announcement that will amount to three million in spending in 2019-2020 and 12 million each year in the following fiscal years.

Alzheimer Society CEO Pauline Tardif said the funding constitutes a “significant step” towards a comprehensive national dementia strategy that will ultimately help affected families live better lives.

The number of Canadians living with dementia is expected to nearly double to almost a million within 15 years, the society said in a statement, adding Canadians now spend more than $10.4 billion a year in direct and indirect costs to care for those with dementia. In 15 years, the group said the figure is expected to jump to $16.6 billion. Neither figure includes millions of hours of unpaid care given by families and friends.

Former NDP MP Claude Gravelle introduced legislation in 2011 calling for a national dementia strategy to support Canadians ravaged by Alzheimer’s and related dementia diseases.

In 2017, a private member’s bill from Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Rob Nicholson on the development and implementation of a national strategy for the health care of Canadians afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia received Royal Assent. It was seconded by Liberal MP Rob Oliphant.

The government has clearly listened, Oliphant said Wednesday.

“Our bill, obviously, could not say that we were requiring money to be spent because private member’s bills can’t do that,” Oliphant said Wednesday. “One of the reasons you do private member’s bills is to draw the government’s attention to an issue and to push it along.’

Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt, whose husband Bruce has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, said in an interview Wednesday she will be watching for the forthcoming details on the dementia strategy.

“They’ve put the framework for funding in place for something that we’re going to see what it is in the future,” she said.

“What happens next is the most important thing,” Raitt said. “Do they figure out where the right place is to put money or do we end up with a top-heavy bureaucracy that is not going to help people on the ground and that’s my concern. That’s why I need to see what happens.”

NDP health critic Don Davies said Wednesday he is pleased to see the funding announced for a dementia strategy contained within the budget.

But he said it clearly falls short of what’s required, given the scope of dementia in Canada and how it is expected to balloon.

“We are aging, it is a widespread illness and I just think we should be investing in anticipation of that,” he said, adding his party’s research suggests the number of Canadians living with dementia sits closer to 750,000 than to 400,000.

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