moved that Bill C-356, An Act respecting a National Strategy for Dementia, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I have been waiting a long time for this. I count it a privilege to stand in the House today to speak on my bill, an act respecting a national strategy for dementia.
I am aware of the millions of Canadians who are directly caught up in the web of Alzheimer's or dementia. I have also become aware of many Canadians and groups who, like me, want a national dementia plan.
It was over three years ago that I stood to introduce this legislation. I shared how this bill came to be by telling the story of my mother's seven-year battle with Alzheimer's, from 1997 until her death in 2003.
The Sudbury Star had profiled my family's experience and had in the headline the following comment: “I didn't know enough”. Truer words have never been spoken. Many others who have caregiving responsibilities thrust on them tell me that those words ring true.
In the past three years, I have learned plenty. First was the staggering statistic on how many people are affected, which is reflected in the “Rising Tide” report by the Alzheimer Society of Canada. There are 740,000 people with the disease. This number will double in a generation. The health care cost of $33 billion will soar to $293 billion in 2040.
Providing millions of hours of unpaid caregiving has forced people to cut back or leave work altogether, which harms them and our economy. I want to talk about that this afternoon.
I learned from the Canadian Medical Association that 15% of scarce acute care beds are occupied by people who could be placed elsewhere, and half of those are dementia patients. Beyond those important statistics, I have learned the real face of the problem.
Fran Linton, in British Columbia, wrote to tell me about her experience and that of her husband in dealing with Lewy body dementia. She wrote:
I am writing in the hope that what I present to you will enable people to see the person with dementia and their family as real people and not just statistics and numbers. We hear the staggering statistics of how many people in Canada have dementia and we hear that dollars are being invested in research. What needs to be heard is the daily impact of being a person living with dementia and those supporting the person with dementia. Our Canadian government needs to hear the reality of their world.
I have met these real people from coast to coast to coast in our communities. They are struggling with this enormous challenge.
I have learned that the real face of dementia is not just older people. Matt Dineen is one of the biggest champions for this bill and an actual plan. He could not be here today, but he is listening in. He is a 44-year-old high school teacher here in Ottawa. He and his relatives are now forced to raise three young children as his wife and their mom, Lisa, at 45 years old, is already in secure long-term care with frontotemporal dementia. Matt has met the Minister of Health.
I learned that 15% of dementia patients are under 60 years old. I have learned that we have a health care crisis and a social and economic crisis that we must address.
My legislation calls for leadership from Ottawa, working with the provinces and territories, which, of course, have primary jurisdiction duties for health care delivery.
I want this leadership from Ottawa to tackle five main elements: early diagnosis and prevention; research; a continuum of care for people and families in the home, the community, and institutions; real help for caregivers; and training for the dementia workforce.
On that last point, help for the dementia workforce, Michael Alexander shared with me the horrific story of his father's death in a nursing home at the hands of another Alzheimer patient. CTV, in a special report, said that there have been 60 such deaths in 12 years, a figure that is growing. Michael Alexander and his family want a real and national dementia plan.
I said I wanted to speak about the challenges caregivers face. Tanya Levesque is a woman in Ottawa looking after her mom. Here are some of the life and financial issues she has met with as a caregiver.
To take care of her mom, Ms. Levesque first had to take leave without pay so she could care for her at home. She will only have the option of leave without pay for five years. Money gets tighter and tighter as they try to keep her in her home and care for her. They draw on savings that were meant for later years.
She writes the following:
Following is a list of financial barriers I have experienced during my journey as my mother's caregiver: Unable to access my El benefits; I've been unable to qualify for social assistance; unable to claim the caregiver amount on my income tax, since my mother's net income is a few thousand more than what is listed; lack of subsidies for expenses which keep increasing (i.e. property tax, parking fees at hospitals for appointments, gas for travelling to appointments, hydro, water and sewage fees and more); I've changed my eating habits to save money, due to the increased cost of food, so my mother can eat well; and because of a lack of future job security, my retirement security is in question — I can't save, because I've chosen to care for my mother, who took care of me
Ms. Levesque, her mom, and others are watching today. Let us pass a real dementia plan as law to help those overwhelmed caregivers.
As I said, I introduced this bill over three years ago. I want to recognize the progress made by Canada since then, through the government working with a G8 initiative and also with our provinces and territories. Many would like that progress to be quicker, but it does deserve recognition.
Canada had come to the G8 summit called for by the U.K. prime minister without a national dementia plan. Several allies from leading economic nations had national plans. Canada has made several significant announcements on research that we support. Research will be the key part of any plan or response to this health care crisis.
Even though research can have an impact on other parts of the dementia challenge, research alone cannot help those with the disease, their caregivers, or the workforce. That is why our party has been insistent on a full, comprehensive strategy.
Canada needs a national strategy for dementia that comes from Ottawa, but one that respects provincial and territorial jurisdiction over health. One strategy tailored to the needs of each province or territory will be far better than 13 separate strategies implemented in isolation of one another. We want a national strategy that goes beyond research, to also help those now living with the disease, their caregivers, and the dementia workforce.
The Canadian Medical Association estimates that patients who should be elsewhere occupy about 15% of the acute care hospital beds across Canada, and one third of them are suffering from dementia. Lost in those numbers perhaps is the real human face of the disease—the moms, dads, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbours and work colleagues.
While an elderly face typifies most people dealing with dementia, 15% of those living with Alzheimer's or related dementia diseases are under 60. At every meeting we had on this bill, we found people who know someone directly affected as a patient or caregiver. It is a health challenge. It is a health care challenge. Given the current lack of money and resources for health care, it is a big problem for us to solve.
I have noted the work that the government is doing with the provinces and territories through the Council of the Federation.
In the past year, I have enjoyed several conversations with the current Minister of Health. I have respected her work on this file. I have been communicating with the minister and her department over the past month and have discussed possible amendments to the bill in committee to work collaboratively on changes that all parties could support. We have identified a way to have this legislation passed.
I look forward to hearing the government's position regarding possible support for a national dementia plan. I know she and all MPs have been hearing loud and clear from so many Canadians who want this to happen. We now have over 300 municipalities passing resolutions in favour of the bill. We have over 90 petitions tabled in the House of Commons in support of it.
There are so many people who say it makes sense. There is support from seniors, health care professionals, labour, and faith communities. Yes, the faith communities are very responsive to the bill, and they are very interested in seeing it pass.
In talks across the country, I have often talked about the non-partisan nature of this disease, how it strikes our loved ones, our mums, dads, siblings, grandparents, friends, neighbours, and work colleagues. Everyone, on all sides of the House, knows the story. I am astonished that wherever I go, everyone knows someone with Alzheimer's or dementia-related disease, or someone caring for them.
Let us do this for them. Let us do this for our country. Let us make history.