Mr. Speaker, the Nanaimo Alzheimer's walk raised $18,000 last year to promote critical research to reduce the effects of Alzheimer's, to provide services for those living with or assisting those with Alzheimer's, and to ease the personal consequences that exist for people and their families every day. I hope people in my region will come to the fundraising walk in Nanaimo on May 7.
It is in that spirit that I speak today on Canada's responsibility to improve care for the hundreds and thousands of Canadians suffering from dementia and to better support their families and caregivers. I support Bill C-233, which calls for the development and implementation of a national and comprehensive strategy to improve health care delivered to persons suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
Here is a call from Susan Barr, who wrote to me from the riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith. She wrote, “I am a senior with Alzheimer's on my father's and mother's line, and am now starting down that dark path of dementia myself.... Unless a dementia patient has sufficient means they have to share rooms with others who often are difficult to live with and/or are violent. I urge you to go and spend two or three hours in a government funded senior's care home with a closed dementia ward and ask yourself — do you want to be treated like this?”
She also describes her brother-in-law, who used to be the gentlest, kindest soul. He has been held in hospital with Alzheimer's for long periods of time because there is no space for him in a care unit elsewhere on Vancouver Island. He has been tied on stretchers and denied showers because of fears about his aggressive behaviour. This is bad for caregivers, for families, and, of course, for the patients.
The need is great. Three-quarters of a million Canadians lived with dementia in 2011, which is 15% of seniors, and this costs our economy $30 billion each year in medical bills and lost productivity. Left unchecked, that number could skyrocket to $300 billion within 25 years.
Canada has fallen behind countries such as the U.S., the U.K., Norway, France, the Netherlands, and Australia, all of which have coordinated national dementia plans in place. Canada is one of the few G8 countries without one. As our population ages, we must prepare our health care system and communities for the increasing number of Canadians suffering from dementia. It is expected to double by 2031. To paraphrase Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare and a New Democrat, “Only through the practice of preventive medicine will we keep the [health care] costs from becoming...excessive...”
In talking last night with the Canadian Association for Long Term Care, I was reminded that Canada has had 40 years to get ready for this wave of aging baby boomers and yet our country had no strategy and failed to plan. The Canadian Association for Long Term Care notes that the proportion of long-term care residents with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia has grown steadily, with 87% of residents affected by the disease since 2010. It also notes that modern home designs and increased privacy are increasingly important for residents with dementia, who could become upset and aggressive when they are unable to get the personal space they need.
Canadians have lost precious time on this, something that is especially important to those suffering from a degenerative and progressive illness. This has had real human impact. I have heard countless heartbreaking stories about the impacts of Alzheimer's disease and dementia on my constituents.
Lynn Myette gave me permission to read this note. She said:
Our Grandfather suffered from Alzheimer' an now our Mom is in a secure unit with Alzheimer's, too. We know what it is like to watch a loved one decline and loose all of their dignity to the point that they are no longer their former being. To be tied into a wheelchair and left to fall asleep sitting there, to loose all their appetite and not eat, to wear diapers and lose control of bodily functions, to no longer recognize close family members, to develop anger, these things along with drugs to numb their being to the point of comatose, happen.
Many cannot afford quality home care for their parents. I talk to so many people in my riding who are trying their very best to look after their aging parents at home. They are not getting the support they need. The smallest amount of support would make a big difference to them. They know they are saving the health care system money, and yet it is shameful that the Liberal government abandoned its election promise to invest $3 billion in home care.
The Liberals promised $3 billion over the next four years during the 2015 campaign. They separated this from the health accord. That means the money should have flowed in 2016, but it has not been delivered almost two years into their mandate. Instead, the Liberals are using home care dollars to try to lever agreement around the health accord. Provinces representing 90% of Canadians still have not received a nickel of this promised home care support. The need is pressing. The burden of caring for patients with dementia and Alzheimer's falls heavily on family members.
In Canada, family caregivers give millions of unpaid hours each year, caring for dementia patients. That represents $11 billion in lost income, and one-quarter of a million lost full-time equivalent employees in the workplace. If nothing changes by 2040, it is estimated that family caregivers in Canada will spend 1.2 billion unpaid hours per year caring for their loved ones. A quarter of family caregivers are seniors themselves.
Long-standing under-investment in care homes means that the alternatives can be dire. Lori Amdam from my riding writes the following:
Why does Canada need a national dementia strategy? We need one because the baby boomers I know are scared to death of developing dementia—they believe that life in a Canadian nursing home would be a fate far worth than death.
When I teach dementia care to students, I often ask them to bring to mind the worst care facility they have seen. They describe an old, hospital-like unit with narrow corridors, paint chipping off the walls and no access to the outside. Then I ask “What if we exchanged the twenty people with dementia who live on this unit with twenty children dying of cancer? Would this place be an acceptable environment for them to live out their last months?” Of course the answer is a resounding no. Why, then, is it an acceptable place for persons with dementia, who have no voice and no power, to live their last years?
...I see more and more incidences of unsafe and unethical practices in acute care. Recently, I had to intervene on behalf of a 90 year old woman with dementia when the hospital tried to admit a young man into the other bed in her double room. She was terrified, yelling “Get that man out of my house! Get him out!”
Creating the framework which would mandate provision of dignified and respectful care for this population of vulnerable people is simply the right thing to do. It is no less than they deserve—they deserve to live in comfort and safety—they built this country.
I can think of no better testimonial for the need for Canada to have a national strategy on Alzheimer's care. Canadians deserve no less. The New Democrats have a long and proud history of advocating for federal leadership on health care issues. We stood unanimously in the House supporting an NDP bill on a national dementia strategy in 2015.
We stood in the House in 2016 and will stand in 2017, despite the fact it was voted down by the previous Conservative government. We are very much encouraged that the member is bringing this bill forward today, even though he voted against our version of it.
We will stand in the House this year and we will vote in favour, and we will work so that every Canadian, every Canadian family, and every caregiver can have a world-class dementia strategy. All parliamentarians should continue to fight for this good cause.