by Bryce Wirzba
In 2008, Saskatchewan spent $572.1 million to deal with dementia. By 2038, that cost is expected to rise to $6.2 billion. To put this into perspective, the whole health care budget for 2009-2010 is $4.075 billion.
In 30 years Canada will have to dish out $872 billion if nothing is done. That’s the warning Rising Tide, a report put out by the Alzheimer Society in January, gave after examining dementia in the country. The startling figure comes after examining current trends in the health care system.
In 2008, 480,600 people lived with dementia. The number is forecast to be 1.125 million in 2038.
Presently there are no cures for dementia. “We would like to see the government spend a lot more money on research into the area of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” said Joanne Bracken, CEO of Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan. She stressed that “research is really the answer for the future.”
The Alzheimer Society awarded nearly $1.4 million in bio-medical research grants to post-secondary institutions across Canada in 2009-2010. These grants are for projects related to understanding and curing dementia. No institutions in Saskatchewan were awarded grants.
A group of people that are greatly impacted by dementia are informal caregivers, and family members and friends of those suffering with the disease. In 2008, 231 million hours of informal care were spent looking after people with dementia. In 2038, it is expected to be 756 million.
Family members are taking time off work to care for the individual and this leads to a loss of income. “We need to provide much more meaningful and significant support to informal care givers,” said Bracken.
Living with someone who has dementia also strains relationships. Neal O’Shea lives with Louise O’Shea, a person suffering from Alzheimer’s. “Louise and I used to laugh off her forgetfulness but we can’t do that anymore. She is aware of her disease,” O’Shea said.
A lot of effort is invested into people like Louise. “I always have to think what has to be done for her before anything has to start in a day,” said Neal. “She comes first before any plans are made and how she will fit into the plans.”
Because dementia is degenerative, being positive is difficult. Neal said that there are no positives when living with a person who suffers from dementia, but commented “I feel that I have become a better person, less selfish.”
There is some hope. Some mental health initiatives have already been put in place. In 2006, the First Link program was introduced in Saskatchewan with $105,000 for the first three years. The program is intended to link people affected by dementia to a community of learning, support and services. An additional $50,000 was given to the program last year to expand the program.
People may be shocked by the report, but “the information in the Rising Tide wasn’t a surprise to the ministry of health,” said Linda Restau, director of continuing care and rehabilitation for the provincial ministry of health. She said that the ministry has made its own projections and was well aware of the trends found in the report.
Restau declined to comment on (the difficulty of) obtaining funding for this area of health.