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A new study from the Alzheimer Society of Canada is ringing alarm bells about the increasing number of people dealing with dementia.
Called "The Landmark Study: The Many Faces of Dementia in Canada," the study explained if we don't adjust our services and support, we might let down the growing number of people with dementia — and their caregivers.
The study presented a sobering outlook, projecting the number of people living with dementia in Canada will exceed 1.7 million by 2050, marking a staggering 187 per cent increase from 2020.
Dr. Joshua Armstrong, lead author of the study, emphasized the impact of structural barriers and social determinants of health on a significant segment of the population, emphasizing the need for adaptable strategies.
"Our findings highlight that we need to adapt how we help everyone — including Indigenous, racialized and younger adults — live with dementia, while supporting access to care, diagnosis and prevention tools for all," Armstrong said in a release.
Here's what you need to know.
What is dementia and what are the symptoms?
Dementia is an umbrella term for symptoms caused by disorders that affect the brain. More than 50 diseases or conditions can cause dementia, with the most common one being Alzheimer's.
Some of these symptoms include:
memory loss, short and long term
difficulty in problem solving
changes in moods or behavior
delusions and hallucinations
What causes dementia?
After the age of 85, nearly one in every four people has been diagnosed with dementia in Canada.
"Advancing age is the strongest known risk factor for dementia, but dementia is not a normal part of aging," the Alzheimer's Society of Canada report claimed.
There are several known modifiable risk factors of dementia, meaning there are behaviours or circumstances that can be changed or prevented to lower your risk. These include:
traumatic brain injury
high alcohol intake
What are the new findings about dementia in Canada?
More than 650,000 Canadians are currently living with dementia — a number that's sharply increasing. By 2030, nearly one million Canadians will be diagnosed. "Its impact is and will continue to be felt across all borders, sectors and cultures," the report claimed.
Young onset dementia is also growing and "presents distinct challenges, which often lead to delayed diagnoses and difficulty in obtaining workplace accommodations." By 2050, it's estimated there could be over 40,000 people under the age of 65 living with dementia in Canada.
In 2020, 61.8 per cent of Canadians living with dementia were women, and more than half of care partners were also women, emphasizing the disproportionate burden placed on female caregivers.
The report highlights demographic disparities, with specific projections for some communities in Canada:
Indigenous ancestry: Anticipated to increase by 273 per cent, from 10,800 to 40,300 by 2050
Asian origin: One in four people developing dementia expected to be of Asian origin by 2050
African ancestry: A projected 507 per cent increase from 4,800 in 2020 to over 29,100 in 2050
Latin, Central and South American ancestry: A forecasted 434 per cent increase from 3,500 in 2020 to over 18,500 in 2050
"Developing a more thorough understanding of social conditions, stress and brain health can lead to enhanced dementia risk reduction strategies across Indigenous communities and other marginalized populations affected by racism in Canada," the report suggested, adding the impact of racism on stress levels cannot be ignored.
How can I support those with dementia?
The Alzheimer Society of Canada stresses the importance of dismantling stigma, discrimination and stereotypes surrounding dementia.
Natasha Jacobs, advisory group lead for the Alzheimer Society of Canada, told Yahoo Canada not much has been proven to slow the progression of dementia, but living a healthy life can reduce your risks. "Making sure to live a very healthy lifestyle and making sure to do things that are increasing your brain health every day is always going to give you a better chance at life, to hopefully not developed dementia."
Grappling with symptoms in dementia can be frustrating for both the diagnosed person and their caregiver, especially when it comes to romantic partners. Jacobs said changes in moods and behaviour can be difficult to process.
"Your partner may obviously seem a lot different than you're used to, and your conversation — the pace and how your chatting with each other — will change."
Daily rituals, such as walks and intimate dinners at home, become essential in maintaining emotional and physical connections when it comes to dementia. Jacobs said it's about "continuing to care for the person for who they are still, and who they once were." She explained it's about moving forward with love and care.
I've seen time and time again, there's a lot of things that can fade with dementia, but I've always seen love push through.
Jacobs offered practical advice, emphasizing the importance of maintaining routines, reaching out for help, and planning for the future. "Meeting your partner where they are and leading with love" becomes a guiding principle, with Jacobs recommending open conversations about role changes and involving a care team early in the process.
As Canada faces a looming dementia crisis, the findings from the January 2024 study serve as a wake-up call. Urgent, comprehensive efforts are needed to address the rising rates, adapt care strategies and foster inclusivity in dementia support.
The Alzheimer Society of Canada's National Strategy is a step in the right direction, but collective action is imperative to transform the landscape of dementia care and research.