Most people know that dementia is on the rise in B.C. Maybe you’ve experienced it firsthand because you have family or friends who are impacted — or maybe you’ve grown desensitized to the staggering projections: More than 85,000 people are currently living with dementia in this province. By 2050, that figure will triple to nearly a quarter of a million.
This week we learned more about how dementia in B.C. will dramatically shift with the Alzheimer Society of Canada’s release of The Landmark Study — Report 2: The Many Faces of Dementia in Canada.
The report paints a stark picture of dementia in Canada over the next 30 years, with a focus on how factors like age, sex and ethnic origin have an impact on people’s experience.
The hard truths in B.C.
By 2050, the number of Indigenous Peoples living with dementia is expected to rise by 286 per cent, far above the 218 per cent rise projected in the overall population in B.C.
Within three decades, one out of every three people who live with dementia will be of Asian origin — including Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Iranian, Japanese, Korean, Lebanese, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese and more — up more than 700 per cent from 2020. People in B.C. of African, Latin, Central and South American origin will also face disproportionate rates of increase.
People assigned female at birth are doubly affected by dementia when compared to people assigned male, accounting for almost two out every three people diagnosed and more than 50 per cent of all caregivers.
By 2050, the number of people under the age of 65 living with young onset dementia is expected to grow to 6,000.
But understanding the impact of dementia isn’t just about the numbers. Dementia influences every aspect of a person’s life — day-to-day activities, relationships, housing and finances, just to name a few. For the person receiving the diagnosis, it may mean having to move or retire earlier than you’d planned. For a family caregiver, it can mean putting education plans on hold, postponing starting a family, or quitting your job to provide care instead. Currently more than 50,000 unpaid care partners provide just under 70 million hours per year of support in B.C. By 2050, that number is expected to balloon to 144,900 care partners and nearly 200 million unpaid hours of care annually. This results in significant societal implications and economic costs.
All this is compounded by the barriers people may experience when they belong to one — or more — of the diverse groups who are more likely to develop dementia, as highlighted in the report.
Indigenous Peoples face health inequities rooted in colonization, which can contribute to an increase in the risk of developing dementia. Stress from factors such as racism, inadequate housing, poverty and the lasting effects of residential schools and colonialism can affect brain health. Systemic racism is also a significant structural barrier to receiving a diagnosis and treatment. Working with Indigenous communities, a collaborative and comprehensive approach is urgently needed to address these issues.
People from different ethnic communities experience the disease in different ways and face unique stigma. Further research is needed to better understand the underlying factors that contribute to the increased risk and different lived experiences among these groups. Resources and support that are culturally relevant and easily accessible must also be provided across the province.
We all need to prepare for what’s coming
Age is another factor that plays a role in how people experience the disease. Even though dementia is still associated with older adults and age remains a significant risk factor, people may develop it in their 40s and 50s. They may struggle to get a diagnosis because of a lack of awareness, particularly among health care providers. Education and continued professional development are important first steps to address this. People living with young onset dementia face unique challenges, including at work and in receiving disability accommodation, and can benefit from support programs that bridge the health, labour and legal sectors.
The Many Faces of Dementia in Canada underscores that programs and policies developed to close this gap not only need to include meaningful input from people with lived experience of dementia and caregiving — but these voices also need to reflect diverse communities and backgrounds. The Alzheimer Society of B.C. is committed to working collaboratively to create resources tailored to meet diverse needs — but we can’t do it alone. We all need to do everything in our power to prepare for what’s coming, and we need to make sure it’s the right action to support the people who will be most affected.
January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and an opportunity to start the year with a strong commitment to improving dementia care in British Columbia. Learn more about resources available in your community and how to support the Alzheimer Society of B.C.’s work at alzheimerbc.org.
Jennifer Lyle is the chief executive officer of the Alzheimer Society of B.C. Prior to joining the Alzheimer Society of B.C., she was the founding CEO of B.C.’s continuing care workplace safety association, SafeCare BC. She has also collaborated on research looking at the impact of design on people living with dementia. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Simon Fraser University and a Master of Health Administration from the University of British Columbia.
Dr. Roger Wong is a clinical professor in the Division of Geriatric Medicine in the University of British Columbia Department of Medicine and is the vice dean, Education in the UBC Faculty of Medicine. He is also a consultant physician of the Geriatric Consultation Program at Vancouver General Hospital and a researcher at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. Dr. Wong has been appointed to the Order of Canada for his contributions to the field of geriatric medicine, including the advancement of policies, education and specialized, culturally sensitive health care.
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