Canada must get ready now to care for a future onslaught of Alzheimer’s disease anticipated among its aging population, says a new study predicting the number diagnosed with the disease, or some form of dementia, will double in a generation.
By 2038 as many as 1.1 million Canadians are expected to have the disease, according to Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society, released by the Alzheimer Society of Canada this month.
Currently, about 500,000 Canadians now live with it. Dementia first impairs memory and eventually ends a person’s ability to live independently.
The report says the increase will create huge new demand for long-term care beds in personalcare homes, and add significant pressures to family members who will need to serve as long-term caregivers for parents and spouses.
Presently, hours logged by caregivers of persons with dementia sit at around 231 million. That number is expected to triple in the next 30 years.
The impact of this will be felt on families everywhere, including rural families, said Norma Kirkby, program director with the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba.
More people may require more care for longer periods of time in the community, meaning more demands placed on caregivers, she said.
“Even if the health system grows the number of personalcare home beds, there’s still going to be pressure where not everyone will get the care as soon as they would wish,” she said.
In rural areas, that will mean additional pressures on persons to drive to wherever a family member is in care, or risks for those individuals if they try to remain living independently.
In Manitoba about 18,000 people are now diagnosed with some form of dementia, or are believed to be living with some form of impairment not yet diagnosed. It’s estimated up to 80 per cent of persons residing in personal-care homes have some form of dementia, Kirkby noted.
With the anticipated rise of the disease, Manitoba’s numbers are expected to swell to around 34,000 in a generation.
The increase could have signifi cant impact, particularly on rural areas if these remain places where large numbers of older persons continue to reside.
Age remains the No. 1 risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
A big question ahead for health authorities and communities ahead is where best to locate new personal-care homes to meet rural needs, Kirkby said.
More personal-care homes in more smaller communities would be ideal. But health authorities are going to have to forecast where populations are going to remain sustainable to merit building and staffing new facilities.
What’s key right now is ensuring rural communities don’t lose health-care services they currently have, Kirkby continued.
“There is a need for farm advocacy groups, if a hospital is becoming aged stock, or a personal-care home is becoming aged stock, to say to the health authority, ‘We will need to serve our own people close to home. How can we do this?’”
The Alzheimer Society’s study outlines potential intervention strategies that can be implemented now, including creating integrated models of care to link primary and acute care with community support networks.
Chronic disease prevention strategies now will also go a long way to preventing more dementia for developing in the population, the study suggests.
Age or an underlying health issue is the causative factor behind 90 to 95 per cent of diagnosed cases of dementia. Only five to 10 per cent are a genetic formation.
Care for one’s overall health can greatly help reduce risk factors for developing the disease, so eating well and getting exercise, keeping cholesterol levels in check and avoiding becoming obese can all help ward off the disease. Staying in social networks and keeping the mind engaged are also helpful.