Comment: B.C. to see dementia crisis in coming years

By 2038, there will be more than 177,000 people living with dementia in B.C., with family caregivers providing an estimated 118.7 million hours of unpaid care each year.

While these figures are staggering, it is important to remember that the rising tide of dementia in B.C. will reach a crisis point, not down the road or at some far-off point in the distant future, but during the mandate of the next B.C. government.

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I was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in early 2007 at the age of 58. I am touring the province with the Alzheimer Society of B.C. to campaign for a comprehensive, funded dementia-action plan.

In 2008, the year after I was diagnosed, caregivers in B.C. provided an estimated 33.1 million hours of informal care. This number is set to more than triple by 2038 if the next B.C. government does not take a leadership role in creating a comprehensive, funded plan. At present, 15,000 people develop dementia each year in B.C. That is just the individual. In the majority of cases, each diagnosed person has two or three close friends or relatives whose lives are also affected by the diagnosis.

The cause of Alzheimer’s disease is unknown and there is no cure. If we continue along our current trajectory, by 2038, it is estimated that there will then be more than 35,000 people who develop dementia each year.

As I tour the province, I am meeting people in communities where the Alzheimer Society has resource centres. These are places where staff members work directly with people with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, as well as with families and caregivers.

Along the way, I am speaking with sitting MLAs and candidates from all parties in the provincial election scheduled for May 14.

People are often surprised to learn that within 30 years, the economic burden associated with dementia in our province is projected to reach a total of $130.2 billion. This is why B.C. needs a comprehensive plan. We need a plan to ensure that our province, government and hospitals are ready to support and provide care for the increasing numbers of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

The plan I’m pushing for promotes early diagnosis so families can organize their affairs and maybe even investigate drug trials. The earlier their diagnosis, the earlier they can adapt and learn that there is indeed life after diagnosis.

The plan will ensure that families have access to support, so family caregivers are able to sustain their caring.

The plan I envisage includes health-care providers getting the education they need to provide the best care possible, both in the home and in a residential-care setting.

It will almost guarantee that everyone in our province facing a diagnosis of dementia, along with their families and caregivers, are connected to the Alzheimer Society of B.C. as soon as possible after diagnosis under the auspices of the First Link program.

On May 14, we elect the next B.C. government. Our elected officials will need to remember that the leading risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is age. They will need to remember that a huge wave of B.C. baby boomers is starting to crash into that risk. And that if nothing is done now, the prevalence of dementia in the province will more than double, and the impact will be felt by everyone, socially in the fabric of our society and financially as it cripples our health system. The need for a plan now is all the more dire.

With a comprehensive, funded and extremely detailed dementia-action plan, we can change and, I dare say, improve the future for individuals, health-care providers and our provincial economy.

A former communications consultant diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Jim Mann has become an Alzheimer advocate as a member of the board of directors for the Alzheimer Society of B.C. and the Alzheimer Society of Canada.

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