With the number of older Canadians climbing, experts are ringing alarm bells about mounting concerns of a looming health care crisis.
As reported in a companion article, the Alzheimer Society is projecting a significant increase in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia disorders over the next two decades across Canada as the ‘baby boomer’ generation ages.
The Sault and Algoma Alzheimer Society reported 9,710 people in our region with the disease or related dementia in 2012.
Those numbers, as reported by SooToday, are creating already a burden on existing long-term care facilities, staff, and family caregivers.
The local organization is projecting the number of diagnosed patients they assist to increase 27 percent by 2020.
In 2013, one in ten people in Ontario over 65 had been diagnosed with some form of dementia related disease, representing a total of about 200,000, according to statistics provided by the Alzheimer Society.
Both Sault Federal MP, Bryan Hayes, and Sault Provincial MPP, David Orazietti, said in recent interviews their respective governments have had the growing health care challenge on their radar screens for several years, and continue to make significant investments toward research, staff training, and more long-term care spaces for patients.
Hayes said from Ottawa in a recent interview that his Conservative government “was on top of it.”
He said they had invested $860 million since 2006 toward neuroscience research “to support the development of effective strategies for the early diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s.”
He added that in its recent February budget his government had committed an additional $15 million annually to expand “patient oriented research” and to create what is called the Canadian Consortium on Neuro-Degeneration and Aging.
“The whole purpose of that consortium is to tackle the early onset of dementia and related initiatives,” he said. “That is part of a global initiative. Canada is joining forces with its G-8 counterparts to support additional research working at finding a cure for dementia by 2025. Canada is part of that, so we are actually really big into this.”
He added that in 2011, the Conservatives announced $8.6 million funding targeted for 44 Alzheimer research projects across Canada.
He said also his government had created the Brain Canada Foundation and committed $100 million into research of brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease.
Hayes said that it is a significant concern for his government.
“If the Alzheimer’s Society feels we need to do more, then obviously I will listen to the local group and bring their message to the Minister of Health.”
He said too that Alzheimer’s disease “touches all of us”, and that is a compelling reason why the government had increased its investments by 20 per cent over the last six years.
Hayes said that when it comes to training programs and staffing, the reality is that that is a provincial jurisdiction.
“Most of our [Federal] role seems to be in research as opposed to delivery of services for Alzheimer’s patients. That is the onus of the Provinces.”
Despite that, Hayes said, “As far as I am concerned, everything is a partnership. The Federal government funds the provinces to deliver health care. We do a good job of it, and we’ve increased funding by six per cent per year since forming government in 2006.”
Meanwhile, Orazietti said the Ontario Liberal government was very aware of the growing health care challenges created by the aging population in the province.
“We’re very concerned,” he said. “Obviously, for all Ontarians we recognize the impact Alzheimer’s and dementia are having on our aging population.”
Orazietti said that for fiscal year 2012-13, annual funding for management and treatment of the disease amounted to $18.9 million.
He pointed out also that since 2011 his government had invested about $60 million to Behavioural Supports Ontario for specialized professional training.
He added that about $44 million of the total was targeted for hiring trained nurses, personal service workers, and other health care professionals.
As of March 31, 2013, Orazietti said 604 new equivalent full-time positions had been created across the Province.
He said the Ontario government had committed $1.1 billion over the last four years towards its Aging at Home Strategy to deliver integrated community services for professional health care to patients.
The goal of that program is keep people living in their own homes with support.
In addition, the Wynne government announced this past December a one-time investment of $10 million for long-term care staff training.
“The purpose of that fund is to improve residence safety, prevent abuse and neglect, and enhance the quality of care for individuals who have Alzheimer’s Disease or related dementia,” Orazietti said.
Two spokespersons for the Sault Alzheimer Society said some of that money already has been put to good use locally for training purposes.
Regarding family caregivers, Orazietti said his government is aware of the strain it can cause on individuals both personally and in their work environment.
He said the government introduced a bill in September 2013, the Employment Standard Amendment Act, to help address that problem.
Under the legislation, family caregivers would be able to receive up to eight weeks of unpaid leave to care for a loved one with a serious illness, including Alzheimer’s disease.
The bill, he said, currently is in third and final reading.
While Orazietti admitted that the leave would be unpaid and therefore would not help with loss of job income, it would protect employees from employers penalizing or firing them.
Cathie Randell, First Link coordinator for the Sault Alzheimer Society, said the legislation definitely represents a step in the right direction, but still did not address the substantial loss of income across the Province.
The Alzheimer Society reported that in 2013 there were 100 million unpaid hours lost by caregivers taking care of family members with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia illnesses.
Orazietti said his government is aware of the economic costs, both direct and indirect, as a consequence of Alzheimer's disease and related dementia across Canada.
Orazietti quoted the Alzheimer Society of Canada as reporting the financial burden on the health care system and families from the disease as $5.6 billion annually in 2008.
That figure, he said, was projected to increase annually by $770 million to $17.5 billion per year by 2020.
Orazietti said that the Province had increased its overall health care funding by 67.5 percent since taking office, from $27 billion in 2003 to $50 billion annually today, out of a total budget of $127 billion.
He said that has created added pressure on the Province to fund health care costs that continue to rise dramatically.
Orazietti also disputed Hayes’s claim that the Federal government was directing six per cent increases annually for health care funding to the provincial governments.
He alleged that for 2014-15, the Federal government had reduced its health care transfer funds to Ontario to 3.4 per cent, or by $300 million.
Regarding Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Orazietti stressed that a key focus of his government continued to be to assess the specific needs of patients diagnosed with the disease to determine the best setting and treatment options.
“That is a fundamental way we are trying to ensure that people have the care that they need as close to home as possible.”
He acknowledged too that there is a growing demand for more long-term care beds across Ontario, including locally.
He said that there is a current proposal to create 50 new long-term care beds in the Sault, although he could not confirm details about where or when those long-term care spaces would become available.
Mario Paluzzi, director of communications for the Sault Area Hospital, said also that they are aware there is a proponent awaiting final approvals from the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, to open 50 additional long-term care spaces in the Sault.
He said that the SAH was hoping those spaces would become available by the end of March or early April this year.
Regarding the upcoming Ontario budget, Orazietti said he expected it to be announced in April.
The Alzheimer Society of Ontario, as part of its recent campaign, has been lobbying the government to increase its investment.
While Orazietti said he could not provide specifics about what the spring budget may contain, Terry Caporossi, executive director of the Sault Alzheimer Society, said the organization provincially is prepared to make it an election issue if need be.
Additional SooToday.com reading on this topic