Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-233, an act respecting a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.
The New Democrats believe that a national strategy for dementia is long overdue. In fact, one should already be in place, and would be, had the current sponsor of this bill, the member for Niagara Falls, and his party not voted down a similar yet more comprehensive NDP bill that was tabled in the previous Parliament.
Dementia disease is a progressive degenerative disorder that attacks nerve cells in the brain, resulting in loss of memory, thinking, language skills, and behavioural changes. The disease forms lesions in the brain cells of patients, causing nerve connections to sever and nerve cells to die.
Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, which is a general term used to describe a group of systems, such as loss of memory, language, motor skills, and other brain functions. Alzheimer's is not part of the normal process of aging, and currently has no cure.
The New Democrats ardently support the need for national leadership to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy across Canada to address Alzheimer's and other dementias. Our caucus unanimously supported former NDP MP Claude Gravelle's bill in May 2015 to create a national dementia strategy. Further, in election 2015, the NDP committed $40 million toward the implementation of a national Alzheimer's and dementia strategy.
Our party recognizes the crisis facing Canadian health care as our country's population ages, including the growing prevalence of dementia among the elderly. We believe immediate action must be taken to tackle these serious challenges on a comprehensive basis. Accordingly the New Democrats are concerned by the decision of the Liberal government to abandon its home care promise in budget 2016. By abandoning the necessary investments now, the Liberal government will only further exacerbate the costs and suffering down the line .
A national strategy for Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia must include mechanisms to ensure that staff have the necessary knowledge about the disease and the skills to deal with it. This means that people have to share information. The purpose of a national strategy is to share that information. People should not be working in isolation.
We have to find a way to ensure that everything we learn, everything that might be useful, such as best practices, is communicated to people struggling with the same problems. It is essential for people to have ways to talk to each other. The goal is not to step in for the provinces, but to ensure that communication channels remain open and people work together. Real collaboration needs to happen so people can share best practices. We have to ensure that nursing staff, doctors and other professionals, such as police and emergency responders, know and understand how to deal with dementia. They need to have the right skills and knowledge to work with people with dementia and provide them with quality care that is appropriate for their situation.
They are often forgotten, but the volunteers who work in this field need to be able to understand the reality of a person living with dementia. It is not always an easy thing to do. There are certain situations that are very difficult to go through on a daily basis, and it is hard to know how to intervene. The volunteers who work at these centres must have access to the knowledge and skills they need to properly understand the reality of the field they have chosen to work in.
As far as research is concerned, we have extraordinary Canadian researchers. However, we could also form international partnerships to further our knowledge. In my opinion, the quality of daily life for people with dementia is an essential area of research. Lately, a lot of research has been done on daily life, and we have learned how significant and deeply impactful this research can be.
In many places there has been a shift from a very medically-based approach to one focusing on the daily experience of dementia sufferers. The goal is for the transfer to long-term care to go as smoothly as possible. For that to happen, the person with dementia needs to be able to create reference points.
A lot of advances have been made because of these various approaches that focus on quality of life and ways of providing care and intervention. Not only is this helping those living with dementia to live much more happily, it is enabling families to be an integral part of the care process.
There is a lot to do. With the challenges this will present in the coming years, it is essential to share information in order for us to adopt an effective national strategy for dementia. According to the Alzheimer Society of Canada, as we heard earlier tonight, the disease and other dementias now directly affect 747,000 Canadian patients, and this number is expected to double to 1.4 million by 2031. Current dementia-related costs, both medical and indirect lost earnings, of $33 billion per year are expected to soar to $293 billion by 2040.
Sadly, the burden of caring for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's falls primarily on family members. In Canada, family caregivers spend 444 million unpaid hours per year caring for dementia patients, representing $11 billion in lost income and 227,760 lost full-time equivalent employees in the workforce. 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 them are dementia patients. Beyond those statistics, I have learned the real face of the problem. The real face of dementia is not just older people. I learned that 15% of dementia patients are under 60 years of age. I learned that we have a health care crisis and a social and economic crisis that we must address.
This is therefore an issue that cries out for leadership from Ottawa, working with the provinces and territories, which of course, have primary jurisdiction duties for health care delivery. I want the 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.
Alzheimer's disease puts enormous emotional stress on millions of families in Canada and costs our health care system billions of dollars every year. Delaying the onset of Alzheimer's by two years could save our health care system $219 billion over a 30-year period. A national strategy for dementia may be able to make an astounding difference in advancing research to work toward achieving this goal, which would diminish this enormous economic hardship and subsequently, and most importantly, improve the lives of those affected Canadians.
The challenge caregivers face needs to be discussed. Over the years, I have known people who have been forced to take a leave of absence without pay to take care of a loved one suffering from dementia, sometimes for several years. In such situations, money gets tighter as families try to keep their loved ones in their homes for as long as possible. They often have to draw on savings that were meant for their own later years.
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 would be far better than 13 separate strategies implemented in isolation. We want a national strategy that goes beyond research to also help those now living with the disease, their caregivers, and the dementia workforce.