With an aging population in Canada, it’s more important than ever to improve dementia awareness
For the first time, seniors today outnumber children according to Statistics Canada’s latest population data. We are seeing an aging baby boomer cohort, as well as societal trends like longer life expectancies and lower fertility rates, and the combination of these factors has contributed to the rapid increase in the proportion of Canadians aged 65 years or older.
An aging population has many implications for our communities, healthcare systems and for the adult children of seniors. New data from the Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System indicates that in 2013-2014 there were more than 402,000* Canadians aged 65 and older living with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease (*excludes Saskatchewan). Of this number, about two-thirds were women. But dementia is more than just numbers. Friends, families and members of our communities all experience the personal and social impact of dementia. For our health-care system and economy this means higher demand for services and soaring costs.
Just this past June, the Government of Canada passed Bill C-233, An Act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, making Canada the 30th country of the 194 World Health Organization members to commit to a national dementia strategy. For all Canadians impacted by dementia, this is a pivotal step towards enhancing research efforts, delivering better care, and improving dementia awareness.
While dementia is most often diagnosed among people in their sixties, it is not a normal part of aging — despite common belief. Dementia is an overall term for a group of symptoms that are caused by diseases or injuries that affect the brain. Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia (caused by strokes) are the most common types of dementia. Symptoms of dementia could include memory loss, impaired reasoning, trouble with language, and behavioural changes. Dementia results in serious mental decline. It’s not the same as age-associated memory impairment, which is a normal experience when unaccompanied by underlying medical conditions.
Age-associated memory loss can take the form of occasionally forgetting details from conversations or events that took place years ago, or mistaking the name of an acquaintance. However, when issues with memory loss begin to interfere with everyday activities and affect the ability to recall recent events or identify close friends and relatives, it could be an indication of something else That’s why it is important to know the 10 warning signs, not only for yourself but for someone you care about. Understanding and recognizing the signs of dementia, and seeking early medical evaluation can make all the difference. An early diagnosis can mean more time and opportunity to receive information, find support, access any available treatment and plan ahead.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent dementia. Growing research has shown there are key risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, cognitive inactivity and depression. A healthy lifestyle that includes eating well, and both physical and mental exercise, can address many of the risk factors and help reduce the chance of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. In fact, a recent Lancet study indicated that up to a third of worldwide cases of dementia could be preventable with lifestyle changes.
With a growing senior population, it’s the role of every Canadian to learn more about healthy aging, and increase their understanding of dementia so that they’re prepared for themselves and their loved ones.
Connecting with your local Alzheimer Society is a first good step. Local Societies in communities across Canada offer comprehensive information and resources about dementia and dementia research, tips for brain health and living well with dementia, as well as a variety of programs and services for people with dementia and those who care for them. Learn more at: www.alzheimer.ca