A groundbreaking event held in Ottawa last May is an exciting step forward in the development of a National Dementia Strategy
On June 22, 2017, Bill C-233, the National Strategy for Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias Act, was passed into law, and many see it as an excellent start.
“A national strategy is crucial, as dementia in Canada is not fully recognized or supported by the healthcare system and social service sectors,” says Pauline Tardif, chief executive officer
of the Alzheimer Society of Canada. “Canadians are generally aware of dementia, yet it’s not treated the same as other diseases or chronic conditions.”
The new strategy, still in development, aims to change all of that. It will encourage the government to invest in more dementia research, combat stigma, enhance understanding of dementia and provide better support for people with dementia and their families.
Given these ambitious goals, it is vital to involve stakeholders from the public, private and non-profit sectors, including people with dementia and their family care partners.
“Dementia affects not only the person living with it, but those around them,” says Ron Beleno, a family care partner in Ontario whose dad recently passed away after a decade of living with Alzheimer’s. “Many times, the caregiver is forgotten in the dementia journey, but they play a key role in supporting that person, so they must be supported themselves with better programs and services.”
Since collaboration is critical in forming the national strategy, it served as a central theme in the recent National Dementia Conference, held on May 14-15 in Ottawa, and organized by the Public Health Agency of Canada. As the first conference of its kind in Canada, this groundbreaking event aimed to inform and inspire themes and key considerations for the National Dementia Strategy. A broad range of interested parties from across the country, including those living with dementia, care partners, researchers, health care professionals, advocacy groups and representatives from provincial and territorial governments were invited to attend.
“Provinces and territories are all faced with the growing numbers of persons living with dementia and with determining how to best support their quality of life and that of their care partners,” says Corinne Schalm, executive director of continuing care with Alberta Health. “We will only achieve this by working together across all levels of government, and with those living with dementia and their care partners, as well as researchers, community organizations, and health and social service professionals.”
Following opening remarks by the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health, the national conference offered a variety of keynote speakers, round tables and Q&A sessions on everything from dementia prevention research to the use of technology in dementia care.
For Roger Marple of Medicine Hat, a dementia advocate who received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis in 2015, one session in particular struck a nerve. Titled “Awareness Raising And Stigma Reduction: Coordination of Efforts,” it explored promising strategies to reduce dementia-related stigma.
“The main thing that stands between me and living well with dementia is stigma, which is a learned behaviour passed on from one generation to the next,” says Marple. “It is perpetuated by ignorance in not recognizing that things like Alzheimer’s jokes can do a lot of damage. If we as a society are to change the stigma culture, we need to challenge the behaviours. We need to speak openly and often, and clearly articulate our expectations for change.”
In the eyes of many participants, the event was integral to ongoing efforts toward a National Dementia Strategy.
“The conference succeeded in galvanizing the entire dementia community around taking action now,” says Tardif. “It was also wonderful to see people with dementia and caregivers at the table to ensure that we’re not creating a strategy about them without them.” [ ]
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