As the aging population continues to grow in Guelph, concerns over the preparedness of the healthcare system to treat patients with dementia mount, says a new report from the seniors' advocacy organization CanAge.
The key areas to focus on in the future of dementia care are investing in at-home care and creating dementia-inclusive communities, this idea is shared by local researchers and the Alzheimer Society in Guelph and surrounding areas.
According to the Alzheimer Society of Ontario, roughly 250,000 Ontarians are living with dementia.
By 2050 in North America and Europe one in four people over age 65 will be living with dementia, said in the report with information from the United Nations.
“The numbers that we're anticipating are increasing and anybody that's in health care is going to be essentially working with older adults. And then because of that, they will be working with at least some people with dementia,” said Carrie McAiney, Schlegel research chair in dementia at the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging and an associate professor at the University of Waterloo.
Locally, there are resources, programs and care plans for those living with dementia. Some of these programs are provided by the Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington.
If there is a larger population of people living with dementia expected in the coming decades in Guelph, staffing is a key component that needs to be addressed, said Gail Roth, director of programs and services at the Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington.
Part of what the Alzheimer Society of Waterloo Wellington is doing, is reaching out to primary care physicians with information pamphlets with their services and education pieces like driving with dementia.
In the future the society hopes physicians can directly refer patients with dementia to the society within their charting so it is easier to get connected to their services, said Roth.
The society offers a program called Minds in Motion where participants engage in exercise and social recreation. It is offered online and in-person at the Evergreen Seniors Centre in Guelph and the Victoria Park Seniors Centre in Fergus.
“There are many communities like Guelph that are amazing, but there are many that still don't have peer led or peer support programs for people living with dementia,” said Sherry Dupuis, University of Waterloo professor and co-director of the partnerships in Dementia Care Alliance at the University of Waterloo.
At the municipal level, support for dementia-friendly spaces, develop dementia-friendly action plans, support organizations with brain health programming, are some of the ways the city can better support those living with dementia, in a report from the Alzheimer Society of Canada.
“So people who connect with us earlier, report that … they have this increased ability to advocate for the needs of the people they support. It just improves your quality of life,” said Roth.
“There needs to be a lot more education and awareness and acceptance of dementia,” said McAiney.
Dementia is a term used to refer to a group of conditions with similar characteristics like memory loss or impairment for someone’s ability to make decisions, she said.
“One of the most important things to notice is, dementia is not a normal part of aging. So sometimes people think that it is, but it isn't and, as a person ages, as we all age, things do change,” she said.
People can become forgetful, but when it starts to interfere with their everyday lives, such as doing daily activities, this would be the time to connect with your primary care physician, said McAiney.
Alzheimer's disease is one of the more common conditions, she said.
“We do need to put some attention on dementia and looking at either dementia friendly or dementia inclusive communities,” said McAiney.
There is no current dementia strategy in the province of Ontario according to the report. There was a dementia strategy in Ontario in 1999 and ran for five years said Dupuis.
“I think if we had another provincial dementia strategy that really actively engaged people living with dementia, that would be a good first step,” said Dupuis.
“We need to be advocating for far more community home based support. This government seems to be interested in developing more private long-term care beds,” she said.
To better support people with dementia there needs to be thought put into how people age in place with dementia and support care partners in their homes, said Dupuis.
“We've just put way too much emphasis on that [long-term care beds], as the only way to care for people living with dementia later in the disease process.”
There haven’t been enough resources into supporting people living with dementia, and their family members despite the research and the fact they want to age and die in their homes, said Dupuis.
She mentioned dementia-inclusive communities, communities where people living with dementia and their families can live well. It would include social supports, a dementia-inclusive lens where staff in businesses are trained to recognize and assist people with dementia, said Dupuis.
Having social and physical supports in a dementia-inclusive community allows to them to be engaged with their community instead of living in long-term care homes, said Dupuis.