The number of seniors with dementia in Ontario is expected to hit 300,000 by the end of 2017. A plan is needed to help the caregivers so they in turn can effectively provide care.
January is Alzheimer Awareness Month, which is a good time to take inventory of the state of Alzheimer’s care in our communities.
It is also a formal opportunity to focus on caring for the caregivers — the people who look after those with dementia and the advocates for those who cannot do so for themselves.
A 2016 report by the ministry of health and long-term care found that one in 10 seniors in Ontario lives with some form of dementia, including the most prevalent: Alzheimer’s disease. That’s nearly 200,000 people and the number is expected to increase to 300,000 by the end of 2017 as the baby boomer generation ages.
People with dementia have their own challenges and
caregivers are at the front line of this work.
A concerted effort is needed to address the mental, physical and emotional well-being of caregivers, so they in turn can effectively provide care.
Canada-wide, dementia affects 1.1 million people, either directly or indirectly. Our health system will be overwhelmed if we don’t take action now.
A comprehensive plan to care for those with dementia must include efforts to increase public awareness regarding the illness, and promote good brain health through diet, exercise and other healthy behaviours. It is also crucial that people be educated to take action when they first notice any brain changes, such as forgetfulness or comprehension issues, in themselves or others.
The impact dementia has on families and the community is significant. Government and health agencies need to find ways to accommodate those in different phases of the illness, while ensuring individuals have control over their care and supporting all those who deal with these issues.
Making sure health care providers have the skills and resources to deal with the increasing number of dementia patients is imperative.
Caregivers are at the centre of this quagmire. The toll of taking care of someone with dementia can be overwhelming. A caregiver often puts their own health and well-being last. Common issues reported by caregivers include denial, anger, depression, social withdrawal and poor sleep patterns. Many also say they can’t recall a time when they felt well.
Ensuring that caregivers are educated about the course the illness will follow, as well as supported at all levels of our community, is no easy feat given the limited resources available. Creative solutions need to be explored, such as having businesses train their staff to deal with dementia and allowing individuals with the disease to be more independent in the community.
Municipal and provincial governments need to meet the needs of persons with dementia by offering social programming. The creation of cafés, choirs, sports and social clubs that are inclusive would help those with dementia while simultaneously giving caregivers the time to recharge.
Many caregivers report unmet transportation needs and the inability to make helpful home modifications that would make care easier. Small measures, such as improved signage and noise reduction in public spaces, could help as well. That would help the person cope by simplifying their environment.
One of the core messages of Alzheimer Awareness Month is that caring for yourself as a caregiver is critical. The concept is akin to putting your own oxygen mask on first in an airplane emergency before helping others. Caregivers must take the time to reach out, ask for help and take advantage of all available resources and services.
Dementia caregiving takes a monumental effort but everyone can pitch in to help make our communities and caregivers’ lives a little easier.
Nira Rittenberg is an occupational therapist who specializes in geriatrics and dementia care at Baycrest Health Sciences Centre and in private practice. She is co-author of Dementia A Caregiver’s Guide available at baycrest.org/dacg . Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org .