Seniors’ health care an aging concern

Monthly column by Member of Parliament Jean Crowder

Over 70,000 people and their families in British Columbia are living with dementia and its effects.

This has special resonance in our communities in Nanaimo-Cowichan because we have a higher percentage of seniors living here than other parts of British Columbia.

There are many challenges that go along with having a large seniors population: getting the right mix of services and finding strategies to help them age in their homes are two that we deal with regularly.

But it is the health care needs of seniors that most people are starting to realize will dominate health care planning in the coming decades. And we can either have a reactive or a proactive plan.

That is why New Democrats unveiled a bill for a National Dementia Strategy on November 24. Over 500,000 Canadians are already affected by dementia and that number will double over the next decade.

It was introduced by Claude Gravelle, whose own mother, Leona, died from dementia-related causes.

He said, “Long before her death at 83 in 2003, she first started forgetting appointments and things on the stove. It deteriorated to forgetting to take medication, to language loss, and changes in mood and behaviour. We were helpless watching a mild-mannered woman at times turn aggressive and seeing part of her true self slip away. My dad also suffered, learning to sleep with one eye open.”

The Alzheimer Society of Canada warns that existing federal programs, research funding and supports are inadequate. They warn that the health, economic and social impacts of dementia will rapidly escalate as the baby boomer generation enters retirement.

The New Democrat bill calls for immediate action to provide comprehensive long-term and community care options to support those living with chronic illness. Too often family members become isolated as they care for a loved one with dementia, so options for respite and support are necessary too.

There will be 9.8 million Canadian seniors by 2036. That is why investments into programs and research on seniors’ health are needed now.

According to the Alzheimer Society’s landmark report Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society, released in 2010, without government action dementia costs to the Canadian economy will increase tenfold – from $15 billion a year to $153 billion a year – over the next 30 years.

The local chapter of the Alzheimer Society of BC will hold their annual Walk for Memories on Sunday January 29, 2012 at Bowen Park in Nanaimo. For more information you can call 250-729-0904.

This year’s walk is dedicated to caregivers.