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Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott listens during a news conference before meeting with first responders at a fire hall in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., on Nov. 10, 2016. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)
Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott listens during a news conference before meeting with first responders at a fire hall in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, B.C., on Nov. 10, 2016. (DARRYL DYCK For The Globe and Mail)

Jane Philpott signals support for national dementia strategy Add to ...

Health Minister Jane Philpott was in tears Tuesday as she described her 81-year-old father’s battle with dementia and agreed more needs to be done to help Canadians living with the degenerative condition.

Dr. Philpott signalled that her government will support a Conservative private member’s bill, brought forth by MP Rob Nicholson earlier this year, to enact a national strategy for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. But she wouldn’t yet promise extra funding to deal with the problem.

“My father is an absolutely amazing person, the wisest and smartest person I’ve ever known, and it’s affected us a lot because he’s not the same person he used to be, and it affects my amazing mother, who … lives with him and takes care of him,” Dr. Philpott told reporters, as her eyes filled with tears in the foyer of the House of Commons.

“I get how, how much it changes families, how much it affects people’s lives and how much we don’t really have great systems in place, and [my parents] live in Southwestern Ontario in a place where there should be better access to care and there isn’t. So we need to do better for Canadians living with dementia,” she added.

Dr. Philpott’s comments came in response to a Senate report released Tuesday that called for a national dementia strategy and asked for at least $30-million a year to fund a partnership group that would include provinces and territories, advocacy groups, and health care professionals.

The report from the Senate’s social affairs, science and technology committee noted the number of people with dementia is set to rise to 1.4 million by 2031, with health-care costs expected to soar from $33-billion in 2015 to $293-billion by 2040.

“We’re heading into a very critical situation,” said independent Liberal Senator Art Eggleton, who co-chaired the committee. “I don’t think any government can afford not to act.”

The committee made 29 recommendations, including a public-awareness campaign, early intervention programs and expanding Employment Insurance benefits for caregivers.

It also recommended a $540-million federal infrastructure investment in long-term-care facilities, doubling research funding to $100-million and $3-billion in home-care funding over four years in the next health accord.

Conservative Senator Kelvin Ogilvie, who chaired the committee, said he believes the home-care funding should come with conditions.

Dr. Philpott said the federal government, which is currently negotiating the health accord with the provinces and territories, plans to invest in better home and community care to help those with dementia.

“It’s not any one single solution that’s going to respond to a fairly significant social issue like [dementia],” Dr. Philpott said.

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, whose husband, Bruce Wood, was recently diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, said she “completely” supports a national strategy because it would bring awareness to the issue.

“I think it would be incredibly helpful,” said Ms. Raitt, who is running for Conservative leadership.

Ms. Raitt said a tendency of those diagnosed with the disease is to become isolated – something her family is trying to avoid. “In our house, we do the best we can to ensure that we’re social, and we’re interacting, and we do a lot of that.”

She said her husband is helping to treat his disease through exercise, music and a healthy diet, but ultimately, she hopes that a cure will be found.

NDP MP Don Davies, whose party first proposed the idea for a national dementia strategy, said he supports the idea but hopes the government doesn’t siphon off home care funding to treat those with dementia instead of providing more money for those with the condition.

“I’d like to see that dementia money, for sure, but from a separate envelope,” he said.

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