Canada and other G8 countries have vowed to step up medical research efforts to cure dementia — or at least delay its onset.
Dementia is deemed to be a looming global health issue, and those at a recent international meeting of health ministers, researchers and the World Health Organization were told that the incidence of dementia doubles every 20 years.
At current rates, one in every three people will develop it in some form.
Canadian health minister Rona Ambrose and Alberta health minister Fred Horne were among the Canadian representatives at the summit meeting.
Speaking after the meeting from London, Horne said there are 40,000 dementia sufferers in Alberta, and 8,000 new cases are diagnosed each year.
However, those at the summit meeting learned there is no cure and no effective drugs in the pipeline that are proven to delay its development.
It prompted a G8 commitment to either find a cure or find effective therapies by 2025.
“One of the things that was discussed here that was very heartening is the fact that there are a number of new diagnostic tests now that can identify either people who are beginning to develop dementia or people who are most likely to develop dementia, and this includes some genetic testing that’s available,” said Horne.
It may allow people to plan care for those diagnosed before onset.
He also said 50 percent of dementia-related illness can be prevented through maintenance of healthy lifestyles that achieve weight control and cardio-vascular fitness.
“There’s much more we can do simply by focusing on the wellness of our population that will bring some of those numbers down in the future.”
Horne said some G8 countries have national strategies to deal with burgeoning cases of dementia, but Canada is not one of them because health care falls under provincial jurisdiction.
He thinks a pan-Canadian strategy is needed.
“In my position as co-chair of the federal-provincial-territorial conference of health ministers, I plan to raise that issue with my colleagues from across the country,” said Horne.
“We need a dementia strategy. It needs to address research but it needs to address the other side of it, which is how we provide better community care for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s and how we support their families and others who are providing care to them.”
Horne said Ambrose committed Canada to work with France to lead a conference this spring that would explore how industry and academics can play a greater role in solutions.
He also sees a need for countries to collaborate on research,pool resources and share their findings.
Horne said efforts must be made to remove the stigma from dementia and other forms of mental illness so it can be publicly discussed and addressed.