Mr. Speaker, today more than half a million Canadians suffer from Alzheimer's and other related dementias. In fact, it is the single biggest cause of disability among Canadian seniors. It is a disease that takes away more than someone's memory; it takes away a person's identity and independence.
Treating this disease can be physically and emotionally exhausting, even fatal for the caregiver. With an aging population, the incidence of Alzheimer's in Canada is rapidly increasing, and this is a global phenomenon.
At its most recent annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum called Alzheimer's “a medical tsunami waiting to happen”. Here in Canada, experts in the field are calling for a national strategy on Alzheimer's and dementia.
Earlier this year, the Alzheimer Society published a report called: “Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society”. This report is helping to advance our discussion on dementia. It gives us a clearer picture of how this epidemic is affecting Canadians today and how it will affect them over the next 30 years.
For example, the report shows that, as of 2008, 55% of Canadian seniors with dementia were still living in their own homes. In 30 years, this number is expected to increase to 62%. Put another way, Canada must prepare for an additional half a million seniors who will be trying to cope with the effects of dementia while trying to remain in their own homes.
It is true that home care is often the best option for patients, provided they have the home care they need. However, it is not always the case. There are too many patients with dementia who simply cannot remain in their own homes, but they are left in their own homes, not by choice but by the fact that there are inadequate public resources. There are not enough beds or rooms for them in places where they can be taken care of in a humane and responsible way.
The shortfall in 2008 was more than 15,000 beds, but this number is projected to explode to more than 157,000 long-term beds within 30 years. There will be a massive increase in the burden placed on family caregivers from coast to coast to coast. The “Rising Tide” report places the economic cost of Canada's dementia and Alzheimer's epidemic at $15 billion per year. In 30 years, this economic burden is expected to grow to $153 billion a year, which includes $56 billion annually in lost wages for caregivers.
This does not include the significant human cost of the disease, both for patients and caregivers. Many of the caregivers feel absolutely overwhelmed by the terrible effect this disease is having on their loved ones. They are looking to governments for leadership and for help.
There is hope that the situation can change for the better, but it requires action. Canada needs a national strategy on Alzheimer's and dementia. We are one of the few developed countries without a national strategy in place. Important work towards a national strategy is being done by groups and organizations, including the Canadian Dementia Action Network. However, the current federal Minister of Health has refused to meet with them.
Last January when the Conservatives prorogued Parliament, the Liberal Party held a round table on Alzheimer's and dementia. It was co-chaired by our leader. We brought together leading experts, including Scott Dudgeon, the author of the “Rising Tide” report, leaders from civil society organizations, caregivers, patients and others. They discussed the need to support research into better treatments as well as a cure, increased prevention and awareness, enhanced integration and coordination between researchers and front-line support, as well as income security for caregivers.
At the round table, the Liberal leader committed to a national brain strategy to lessen the social and economic impacts of dementia. Our round table on Alzheimer's and dementia played a significant role that led us to the Liberal family care plan, which was released in October.
On a personal note, on November 16, 2009, a little over a year ago, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Mom is 81 years old. She has, during her life, been a successful and hard-working business woman, mother, wife and community leader. The diagnosis for our family has been a difficult one. She has a wonderful doctor, Dr. Catherine Smith, and she has a terrific specialist, Dr. Kenneth Rockwood. The drugs that were prescribed to my mother provided some element of hope in a way because there was a 33% chance that there would be some improvement, a 33% chance that the condition could be stabilized for a period, but then a 33% chance that the drugs would have no impact and her condition would continue to decline.
There is nothing curative today. We can treat symptoms but there is nothing curative. The prognosis for patients with Alzheimer's is always a bad one long term. The condition will continue to worsen. That is why research is important and the research in places like the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation is so critical. The work being done by researchers, like Don Weaver, Dr. Kenneth Rockwood and Dr. Sultan Darvesh, is absolutely essential to finding a cure for Alzheimer's, a cure that may not benefit my mom but may benefit somebody else's mom in the future.
I also want to speak to my own personal reflection on the caregiver issue. My dad, who is 87 years old, is taking care of mom. When I spoke on this issue with my leader, whose mother died of Alzheimer's, he told me that in his case his mother's Alzheimer's actually killed his father before it killed her. That happens a lot. The caregivers actually can die before the patient.
In my dad's case, he had colon cancer in the 1960s, a triple bypass in 1987 and has had prostate cancer for 15 years. He told me a few weeks ago that my mother's Alzheimer's was the toughest thing that he had ever been through. I reflect on that by saying that Canadian families need help. My parents have four children who are trying. My mother is fortunate to have a husband who is doing everything he can to help. Other people, however, need more help from home care support.
Many Canadian families have it far tougher than our family. In fact, I was reading in The Globe and Mail a few weeks ago, which did an excellent series on Alzheimer's, the story of a 26-year-old mother who was taking care of her two little kids while, at the same time. taking care of her 52-year-old father who had early onset Alzheimer's. This sandwich generation that is emerging in Canada where parents of young children taking care of their own parents at the same time will only grow.
We brought forward the Liberal family care plan because it would provide enhanced EI benefits for family caregivers. It would also provide a family care tax benefit, which is very similar to the child care benefit that would benefit disproportionately low and middle income families. Our Liberal family care plan has received support from many organizations, including the Alzheimer's Society and the Victorian Order of Nurses, the VON.
I sense that around this issue of Alzheimer's and dementia, there is multi-partisan support, not just for words in the House in support of Alzheimer's research and caregiving for families, but also for a real national action plan on Alzheimer's and dementia.
I urge the government to take serious action on this issue. It is a crisis that is going to grow with time. We are in this place not just to be looking at the priorities this week politically, but we are in this place to be looking at the challenges and opportunities facing Canada 10 years, 20 years, 30 years out.
Tackling Alzheimer's and dementia needs to be something that Parliament takes seriously. I commend the member for bringing forward this motion but I urge the Conservative government to take action.