Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-233 and to have the opportunity to speak about dementia.
I want to praise the hon. member for Niagara Falls and heartily agree with his sentiment that this issue does transcend partisanship.
Dementia is a syndrome caused by a variety of brain diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer's, which is characterized by slow and progressive deterioration of cognitive function. It affects memory, thinking, language, and judgment, along with mood and personality. This is a most curious and mysterious disease.
As our population ages, dementia is of growing concern in Canada and internationally. From 2011 to 2030, the number of Canadians with dementia will double. Right now, more than 7% of Canadians over the age of 65 are affected by dementia. Over 35% to 40% will be affected by the time they reach 85.
My home province of New Brunswick is particularly sensitive to this issue. As it stands, New Brunswick has the highest proportion of population over the age of 65 compared with other provinces. Dementia is on the rise in New Brunswick with over 16,000 people diagnosed and another 3,000 diagnoses expected this year. The impact is compounded by the fact that many seniors are also dealing with additional chronic diseases.
Keeping seniors in their homes helps them to thrive. Knowing this, I am reassured that the provincial and federal governments have made home care a priority when addressing health care in New Brunswick. The Government of Canada has committed over $125.1 million over the next 10 years for home care in New Brunswick.
The fact that there is no current treatment to cure dementia can be devastating to people with dementia and their loved ones. However, we know that research can help find a cure or a way of altering the course of dementia.
I cannot emphasize enough that our government believes in the power of research evidence, which is what we have signalled strongly in the last months. The Government of Canada will undertake and use research evidence to make informed decisions concerning health care. Investing in health research is an investment in a healthier Canada and healthier Canadians.
Research drives the way we diagnose, treat, and care for those with dementia and their caregivers. It has not only helped improve our understanding of dementia and the neurodegenerative diseases causing it, but it created new possibilities for better diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life for patients and their families.
The Alzheimer's Society continues to promote the benefits of early diagnosis. As a 2011 study revealed, 50% of Canadians live for more than a year with their symptoms before seeking diagnosis. We need to do better.
Canadian research has highlighted a link between dementia and stroke. Dr. Sandra Black of the University of Toronto has been collecting brain scans of patients with dementia since 1995. These scans uncovered the prevalence of silent strokes, or strokes that leave small holes in the brain without any obvious symptoms. This research has opened the door to the possibility for earlier diagnosis for Canadians using brain scans. It suggests that reducing the risk of stroke may help prevent dementia. Continued research like this is vital. Our investments in this area are essential to changing the course of dementia and unlocking a cure.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, or CIHR, is the Government of Canada's primary vehicle through which we support research and move results into practice. In the last five years, CIHR has invested more than $193 million in dementia-related research. This funding supports the best, most intriguing research questions that Canada's brightest and most promising scientists have to offer. This is research that has the potential for big impacts for Canadians and the Canadian health care system.
For example, Halifax researcher Dr. Janice Keefe has spent 20 years focusing on at-home, family caregivers who she calls "the backbone of our current health system". As Canada's aging baby boomers increasingly care for a spouse or parent with dementia, these family caregivers need support to avoid becoming patients, and not necessarily for dementia. Dr. Keefe co-developed a ground-breaking, evidence-based questionnaire that captures the diverse and complex needs of family caregivers.
The C.A.R.E. tool is influencing policy development and support programs for this often overlooked but vital population. First piloted in Quebec and Nova Scotia, practitioners are now using C.A.R.E. in Ontario and Alberta and it has been culturally adapted for use in France and New Jersey. As the prevalence of dementia increases in Canada, so will the number of caregivers. A tool like this, which helps identify needs and therefore support programs for those who are dedicating themselves to others, is invaluable.
I am pleased to say that by leading its dementia research strategy, CIHR is acting strategically to focus research efforts not only in Canada but internationally. This approach brings together partners from different sectors to support the latest dementia research related to three specific themes: prevention, treatment, and quality of life for those affected by the disease and their caregivers.
The domestic component of the strategy, the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging, is known as Canada's premier research hub on neurodegenerative diseases affecting cognition, including dementia. The number of funding partners CCNA has brought together is now up to 15.
With these funding partners from across Canada, CCNA helps accelerate the development of dementia treatments and care for Canadians. To do this, it involves over 350 researchers, who are examining issues important to all Canadians, including specific vulnerable groups, such as indigenous people and those living in rural communities. In this regard, dementia rates in Canada's indigenous communities have been steadily increasing for the last seven to 10 years. Alarmingly, the onset of dementia is now occurring an average of 10 years earlier than in non-indigenous communities.
Drs. Kristen Jacklin and Carrie Bourassa are leading research into how indigenous culture and community affect how people experience dementia. Their team is working with indigenous communities to develop culturally grounded approaches to dementia diagnosis, care, and health education. This research will produce a range of results to help clinicians. It will help them adapt their approach to ensure that indigenous people feel more comfortable and safe when meeting with health professionals. It will also help build appropriate community and cultural strengths into existing programming for people with dementia and their partners.
The dementia research strategy developed by CIHR also has an international component, which has enabled Canadian researchers to participate in key international partnerships across its three themes. Through this component, Canadian researchers have been able to collaborate with colleagues from across the globe.
Canada is recognized as a leader in this domain. For example, Canada was the first country outside of Europe to join the joint program on neurodegenerative disease, the largest global research initiative tackling the challenge of neurodegenerative diseases. Let me give members concrete examples of the research funded through the international collaboration.
This program funds the work of Drs. Jörg Gsponer and Paul Pavlidis from the University of British Columbia. They are working on an international team with researchers from Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands to shed light on the genetic risk factors of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. This fundamental research will help us find new biomarkers as ways to measure deviations from healthy aging, along with novel treatments and diagnostic tools.
Together the scientific efforts through the strategy's domestic and international components have defined Canada as a leader in dementia research. We are proud to support world-class researchers as they participate in the global pursuit of finding a disease-modifying treatment for dementia by 2025.
Dr. Alex Mihailidis, from the University of Toronto, has developed a mobile robot to help people living with dementia. Sometimes people with Alzheimer's disease have a hard time remembering the sequence of steps required for everyday tasks. Dr. Mihailidis has created an automated prompting system, called the COACH, which helps them remember the steps required in basic tasks like handwashing. Already working well in long-term care facilities, his team is now adapting the COACH to help those living at home.
As members can see, the results of research provide hope that new tools, services, and treatments will soon be available to better prevent dementia and improve the outcomes for Canadians living with this terrible disease.
I am pleased to say that through CIHR, the Government of Canada has established a clear research strategy on dementia. This government will continue to invest in dementia research. We know that our investments in research will go a long way to improving the lives of Canadians living with dementia, their families, and caregivers.
It was an honour to participate in today's debate, which highlights the challenges and growing concerns surrounding dementia. My father, and by extension, my mother and my entire family, is currently struggling with the impact of this terrible disease. Knowing that such amazing research is happening right here in Canada is not only comforting but provides hope for all of us that we may someday find a cure that will allow more Canadians to live a longer, healthier, and happier life.