Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss private member Motion No. 575 on Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. I would like to thank the member for Huron—Bruce for raising this very important issue in the House. I know there has been much debate on this important issue so far, so I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to how we can continue to help Canadians living with dementia.
As members have said previously, this is not a partisan issue. I hope that today's debate will be a way to bring us together so that Parliament can speak with one voice in calling for a continued focus on helping Canadians.
Motion No. 575 calls on the government to continue taking the necessary measures, while respecting provincial and territorial jurisdiction, to prevent Alzheimer's disease and other dementias and to reduce the impact of dementia on those living with this disease and on their families and caregivers.
One section of the motion focuses on dementia research in the areas of primary prevention, secondary prevention or treatment, and quality of life. I could not agree more that research plays a pivotal role in improving health outcomes for all Canadians, especially those suffering from dementia. I am proud to say that the government has made significant investments toward dementia research. As a result, Canada is considered a world leader in this area.
What is leading this focus on research is the Government of Canada's health research funding agency, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, otherwise known as CIHR. The government, through CIHR, has already been working to organize our efforts through a dementia research strategy. The strategy supports research on all aspects of the preventive, diagnostic, and treatment approaches to Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. It consists of both an international and a national component.
Last fall, the Minister of Health announced the creation of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging. This consortium is a key part of the strategy. It is our premier research hub for diseases associated with aging, including Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. The CCNA brings together 20 research teams involving 340 top Canadian researchers in the field of neurodegenerative diseases that affect how the brain functions as it ages.
Research within the consortium is organized around three research themes: prevention, treatment, and quality of life. This approach is key. We are focused on research toward a cure but also on research that is working to improve the quality of life of Canadians today.
As part of this effort, the Minister of Health announced that the consortium is working with the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom to share large amounts of health and health care data and research expertise. This will help us better understand, treat, and prevent dementia here at home using the latest international evidence. This data will also provide dementia researchers with useful health and lifestyle information from various settings, including nursing homes, which will help researchers address scientific questions over a broader range of dementia-related issues.
As we can see already, the CIHR dementia research strategy supports both domestic and international research on Alzheimer's disease and dementia through a variety of activities.
Today I would like to describe how the government will continue to maintain a strong focus on both domestic and international dementia research in the three vital areas of prevention, treatment, and quality of life.
First, the government is supporting research on prevention. This theme is focused on preventing or stopping the disease from developing. We know that Alzheimer's disease, like many chronic conditions, may develop as a result of complex interacting factors such as age, genetics, environment, lifestyle, and other existing medical conditions. If we can identify which of these risk factors can be changed, we may uncover ways to prevent or delay dementia from occurring.
Prevention is a vital theme for dementia research, and our government has funded many researchers in this area. To illustrate our commitment to this theme of prevention, the government is funding the work of Dr. Sandra Black, from the University of Toronto, and Dr. Vladimir Hachinski, from Western University. Their research is leading to a new approach to dementia treatment that is focused on early prevention based on addressing risk factors for vascular health, such as hypertension, diabetes, and smoking.
These results have been instrumental to the development of the first dementia screening protocol, which assesses stroke, dementia, and overall vascular health.
We are also proud of the fact that six research teams of the consortium will be focusing their work on prevention. For example, one team will study nutrition, lifestyle, and prevention of Alzheimer's disease.
The government, through CIHR, is also supporting research under the second vital area of dementia treatment, also known as secondary prevention. Secondary preventions are efforts to reduce symptoms and improve the quality of life until a cure is available. Right now there are some drug treatments that may temporarily relieve symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
While we are committed to researching a cure, these efforts will also help to support Canadians who need help now. For example, the government has funded Dr. Manuel Montero Odasso, of Western University, who studied walking speed and fluctuations as a predictor of dementia's progression. His team studied 150 seniors with mild cognitive impairment, a pre-dementia syndrome, in order to detect an early predictor of cognitive and mobility decline, and progression to dementia.
This research team discovered that walking speed changes were more noticeable in pre-dementia individuals with the worst signs of cognitive decline. These changes may serve as an effective way to predict the onset of dementia, and may eventually help diagnose and treat dementia earlier.
We are also very content to see that seven consortium teams will focus their research on treatment. For example, one of these teams will be looking at cognitive therapy and its effect on the brain.
On the international front, Canada continues to support research on treatment. A good example of this is through the international Network of Centres of Excellence in Neurodegeneration. Under this network, we have partnered with five other countries to develop common standards and efficient methods to validate findings in studies. This partnership resulted in seven international grants being funded by CIHR for a total of $1.2 million.
Our government plans to continue its work with this international network to better understand how the disease works and provide new avenues for therapeutic development.
Last, I would like to describe the work related to research on the quality of life of people living with dementia and their caregivers. As we all know, as dementia progresses, Canadians have to live with enormous challenges and changes to their everyday way of life. Research in this area is critically important. If we learn how to adapt to these changing abilities, a person will be more likely to have a high quality of life, even with a dementia diagnosis.
The topic of quality of life is essential for improving the lives of people affected by dementia. This is why, in 2014, our government collaborated with the Alzheimer Society of Canada and Parkinson Society Canada to host a high-level meeting on the topic of life with dementia. This event brought together experts and people with first-hand experience to answer questions and share insights on how to move beyond the diagnosis and improve the quality of life of people with dementia and their caregivers.
This event provided the critical perspective of Canadians living with the issue, and has helped to inform research as well as the dementia friends Canada program that our Minister of Health has been working to bring in.
Working under this motion, I know that we will continue to engage with Canadians to ensure our efforts are focused in the right direction. Before I close, I must address what is really at the heart of today's motion. My colleague from Huron—Bruce has done an excellent job of respecting provincial jurisdiction while at the same time calling for real progress to be made on the development of a pan-Canadian strategy for dementia. I fully support this call, and I am pleased that our government will be working to implement exactly that.
I know that all members will have their own ideas about the best way to accomplish the strategy, but the key part for me is that we get this done for Canadians. That is why I was pleased to see that economic action plan 2015 clearly commits to working with the provinces to develop a national plan.
Supporting today's motion is yet another way that we can ensure this important work is done and that we can build on the good progress that our Minister of Health has already been able to secure with the provinces.
I would like to again thank the member for Huron—Bruce for bringing forward today's motion. I hope all members can come together to support this and have Parliament speak with one voice about the importance of further actions on dementia.