In need of an Alzheimer's strategy
The newest census information is out and Nova Scotia has the oldest population in Canada: more than 16 per cent of our residents are over 65.
Those numbers can be a great blessing. Seniors are an active part of our volunteer sector, they play a big part in ensuring a strong family life and their years and experience are a great resource for many generations under them.
However, an aging population can also be a great cost to our health care system. That's why we need a government that will be proactive in providing the supports our seniors need, rather than facing the expensive hospital bills later.
One of the biggest example is in the area of Alzheimer's care and prevention. Alzheimer's disease is a debilitating and devastating condition that affects not only patients but their families and caregivers for years to come. Half a million Canadians suffer from Alzheimer's: more than 15,000 of those live here in Nova Scotia. If nothing is done to cure or, at least, curb the spread of this disease, in 25 years that number will likely double. That's 30,000 Nova Scotian families struggling to care for a loved one falling prey to a horrible disease.
There is much we don't know about Alzheimer's. More research is needed to determine the causes of dementia and to figure out what precisely triggers the degradation of the brain, but there is still a lot we can do. Nearly three years ago the Alzheimer's Society released an extensive research study that called for a national dementia strategy to reduce the gap between people living with the disease and the available resources. It stated in no uncertain terms that inaction is not an option. Yet that is exactly what has happened. More people forget, more people wander off and more families have imploded under the pressure of caring for loved ones afflicted with Alzheimer's and our governments still don't act.
We may not have a national strategy, but we still face the problem. With the oldest population in the country, Nova Scotia is seeing the impact already and there is lots we can do to help our citizens and to lessen the financial burden of Alzheimer's disease.
Early intervention is the first step in reducing the burden of Alzheimer's. Dementia is often seen as a normal part of the aging process. It is not and, if it is caught early, medications can be used to slow the decline substantially. We need awareness and early diagnosis.
We need to keep people in their homes where surroundings are familiar and loved ones can be nearby. The supports to keep people at home can seem expensive but home care and support services can delay admission to hospitals or nursing homes, saving millions of dollars. Training and access to resources for family members can also have huge returns. The Alzheimer's Society says such training could save the Canadian health care systems as much as $2 billion.
There is also an important role for institutional care. There comes a time where families can no longer care for loved ones and a long term care bed is needed. Unfortunately the wait list for such beds in this province is now nearing 1,900 people, nearly 25 per cent more than when the NDP took office.
Patient navigators are also a proven resource that would not only help scared and confused patients and their families, but could also save money. Such people in the cancer care system have proven to be cost effective in preventing waste and keeping patients out of expensive hospital beds.
The Alzheimer's Society is right. We need a strategy for dementia, and we need it here in Nova Scotia. We can't wait for a federal approach. Health care is a provincial responsibility and this government needs to start taking better care of its most vulnerable citizens.
Source: King's County Register, July 19, 2012