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Part I

Why Canada needs a national strategy on dementia Add to ...

"There is this unstated expectation that, when someone develops dementia, the family will pick up the ball," says Joel Sadavoy, a specialist at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital. "We don't offer them any education, any training or any support."

As well as learning practical things, such as changing continence pads, he says, people require training in problem-solving and, in many cases, psychological support.

Caregiving puts enormous emotional and financial strain on families. New research shows that nearly 40 per cent of people show signs of distress, ranging from depression to rage. Many are simple overwhelmed.

That stress can be mitigated with good education and access to resources, says Howard Bergman, a professor of geriatric medicine at McGill University who led an expert committee that produced a much-lauded report on dementia care for the Quebec government.

The committee called for opening special support centres to train caregivers and make information and access to services easy to find. This would be costly, but the Alzheimer Society's report says training caregivers - thus delaying admission of patients to nursing homes - would save more than $2-billion a year.

Solution six: Teach Canadians to keep their brains in good health

Delaying the onset of dementia by two years would reduce the number of cases by 36 per cent within a generation; delaying it by 10 years would essentially eradicate the affliction.

Clearly, prevention is the key to stemming the rising tide of dementia. But what works?

Research shows that the classic saying "a sound mind in a sound body" holds true. After genetics, a healthy, active lifestyle is central to preserving the brain and, in particular, to preventing Alzheimer's disease.

"The best bang for your buck to reduce the risk of developing this devastating disorder will be to maintain a regular exercise routine, a healthy diet, and be engaged in socially and mentally stimulating activities, says Mario Masellis, a neurologist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

Furthermore, he says, having a healthy cardiovascular system - by, for example, limiting salt intake to control blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking - is the way to prevent vascular dementia.

Solution seven: Increase research investment significantly

Our knowledge of dementia has yawning gaps - the underlying causes of most forms are unknown, along with what triggers the degradation of the brain.

There are few drugs available and their ability to delay or mitigate symptoms is at best moderate. "We still don't know what we don't know," says Howard Bergman, a professor of geriatric medicine at McGill University.

Research is the way to increase knowledge. New drugs are being developed and there are those who believe that a cure is possible. Equally important is determining best practices for care, in a bid to improve the quality of life of sufferers and caregivers.

A new group of independent researchers has asked Ottawa for $50-million in each of the next five years. At present, for every $100 worth of cancer research, just $15 is spent on tackling dementia.

Coming Next in Dementia: Confronting the crisis


Frauds and feuds: Dementia's open invitation to greed.


International Alzheimer's Day

Caregivers' burden: Patients aren't the only victims


Brain games: Why crossword puzzles don't really help

Early diagnosis: Would you want to know?


Signs of hope: The hunt for a cure isn't a complete disaster

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