A National Dementia Strategy for Canada
By The Alzheimer Society
June 22, 2017 marked a significant milestone for Canadians living with dementia, their caregivers and their families.On that day, Bill C-233, the National Strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias Act, received royal assent in parliament and became law, making Canada the 30th country to develop a national dementia strategy and action plan.
The Act has elevated dementia as a priority within our health care system. That’s important, because there are more than 564,000 Canadians living with dementia today and 25,000 more are diagnosed each year.
What does the Act say?
The Act directs the federal Minister of Health to bring together the provincial and territorial government officials responsible for public health to develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy to address the growing challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.Now that the Act has been adopted, the Minister of Health has 180 days to convene a meeting to create the strategy with government officials, researchers, health care professionals, the Alzheimer Society and other dementia advocacy groups. This working group will also involve the most important beneficiaries of the strategy: people living with dementia and those who care for them.The minister is also responsible for establishing an advisory board of up to 15 members, made up of government officials, advocacy groups, health care professionals and people impacted by dementia. By June 2019 and annually after that, the minister must report to parliament on the progress and effectiveness of the strategy, including recommendations for improvements.
What is a dementia strategy?
A dementia strategy is an overall vision. It sets out a plan to meet the needs of people with dementia, their families and their caregivers. The strategy will focus on a greater investment in all areas of dementia care and research. It is intended to coordinate and standardize the care and delivery of services on a national scale so that people with dementia can live fully and remain independent in their communities and their homes for as long as possible, and ensure family caregivers have the support they need. Another major component of the strategy is public awareness—to better inform Canadians about dementia in all of its forms, as well as the risk factors and prevention strategies, and to combat the stigma that is associated with the disease.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, the umbrella organization of Alzheimer’s associations around the world, a dementia strategy or plan is the single most powerful tool with which to transform dementia care and support.Under Canada’s federal system of government, the provinces and territories are responsible for delivering health care. This can often result in a fragmented system of care and unequal access for people impacted by dementia across the country. Furthermore, five out of the 10 provinces, including Ontario, have or are developing their own dementia strategies.The national strategy will help create a more equitable, accessible and coordinated network of care by informing regional dementia policies and bringing together the excellent work being done in dementia care, scaling up and sharing existing best practices and successful programs across the provinces. A national dementia strategy will help ensure that all Canadians affected by dementia will have access to equitable care, support and services—no matter where they live.
What should a national dementia strategy include?
National plans or strategies vary from country to country, but in general they coordinate across governmental agencies, outline treatment and care recommendations, and provide a structure for reporting on progress. Some common features found in national strategies include: research; dementia-specific training for health care professionals; public awareness campaigns; a focus on prevention, early diagnosis and treatment; care pathways and a case management approach; the involvement of multiple stakeholders; and support for caregivers. For Canada’s national dementia strategy to be successful in tackling the challenges of dementia, it should have high-level, national leadership and scope, be inclusive of people with dementia in both its development and implementation, have dedicated government funding and be sustainable, with clear targets and reporting mechanisms. In 2015, the Alzheimer Society released The Canadian Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Partnership (CADDP), the framework document for a national dementia strategy. In it, the society recommended the creation of a core curriculum and continuous professional development for health care providers involved in delivering dementia care.
Senate committee support
The Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology of the Senate of Canada has already implemented some of the groundwork to develop a strategy. It conducted a study on dementia and tabled its report in November 2016: Dementia in Canada: A National Strategy for Dementia-friendly Communities. Among the report’s 29 recommendations, the committee called for “a Canadian partnership to address dementia” to create and implement a national strategy.
Global action on dementia
On the international stage, dementia has gained significant attention through a global action plan adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in May of this year. It calls upon governments to develop national strategies and implementation plans. The global plan was unanimously endorsed by all 194 WHO member countries, including Canada. Thanks to the passage of Bill C-233, Canada was the first nation to announce a national dementia strategy and action plan after the WHO global action plan was adopted.
What is the Alzheimer Society’s role?
Alzheimer’s organizations around the world play a pivotal role in the development, implementation and monitoring of dementia strategies. The Alzheimer Society of Canada has been specifically named as a stakeholder in the new Act. That places a special responsibility on us to help lead, shape and drive the new strategy. With an international network and strong presence across Canada through our federation partners, the Alzheimer Society is ready to work closely and collaboratively with government partners, including the newly established Division of Aging, Seniors and Dementia at the Public Health Agency of Canada, which is leading the development of the national dementia strategy. The society will also continue to raise awareness about the strategy and will monitor its progress as it begins to take shape. The society brings to the table more than 30 years of knowledge and experience in best practices.
Funding is critical
To be impactful and sustainable, the strategy will require significant financial investment from the federal government. That’s why we made a submission to the 2017–18 pre-budget consultation, recommending that the Public Health Agency of Canada create and fund an arms-length, not-for-profit organization. The Alzheimer Society will be watching for a funding commitment in the next federal budget. In addition, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology also recommended a minimum annual investment of $30 million to support the strategy in its November 2016 report.
This is a watershed moment in our history. Canada is recognized as a world leader in dementia research. It now has a real opportunity to position itself as a leader in dementia care.
Read the senate report: alzheimer.ca/~/media/Files/national/Advocacy/SOCI_6thReport_DementiaInCanada-WEB_e.pdf
The Alzheimer Society is the leading not-for-profit health organization working nationwide to improve the quality of life for Canadians affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and advance the search for the cause and cure (alzheimer.ca).