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MP calls on House to support national dementia strategy

By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News


OTTAWA (CCN) — NDP MP Claude Gravelle hopes the House of Commons will support his private member’s Bill C-356 to create a national strategy to combat dementia.

“Canada needs a national strategy for dementia that comes from Ottawa, but one that respects provincial and territorial jurisdiction over health,” Gravelle told the House March 13 during the first hour of debate on the bill, which he introduced three years ago. “One strategy tailored to the needs of each province or territory will be far better than 13 separate strategies implemented in isolation of one another.”

“We want a national strategy that goes beyond research, to also help those now living with the disease, their caregivers, and the dementia workforce,” he said.

While Gravelle waited his turn in the order of precedence for his first hour of debate to come up, he has garnered a great deal of popular support from a range of organizations and faith communities, including Canada’s Catholic bishops.

“There are 740,000 people with the disease,” Gravelle told the House. “This number will double in a generation. The health care cost of $33 billion will soar to $293 billion in 2040.”

“Providing millions of hours of unpaid caregiving has forced people to cut back or leave work altogether, which harms them and our economy,” he said.

The Canadian Medical Association has said 15 per cent of acute care beds are occupied by people who should have other care alternatives, and half of them are dementia patients, he said.

Gravelle also spoke of Ottawa Catholic high school teacher Matt Dineen, who is “one of the biggest champions for this bill and an actual plan.”

Dineen’s 45-year-old wife Lisa is in a secure long-term care facility with frontotemporal dementia, he said, leaving Dineen to raise their three children without her. Dineen’s story shows dementia does not only affect the elderly, Gravelle, said noting 15 per cent of dementia patients are under 60.

Gravelle asked for leadership from Ottawa to address five main elements: “early diagnosis and prevention; research; a continuum of care for people and families in the home, the community, and institutions; real help for caregivers; and training for the dementia workforce.”

To illustrate the burden on caregivers, Gravelle read from testimony of an Ottawa woman, Tanya Levesque, who took an option to take a five-year leave without pay to take care of her mother in her home. Levesque is suffering deepening financial hardship, risking her future job and retirement security, the House heard.

At a news conference March 12, Gravelle spoke of having support of 300 municipalities across Canada, health care organizations, labour unions, and the faith community who are supporting his bill.

Asked if the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Carter case, paving the way for physician assisted death, added any urgency to his bill, Gravelle said: “I’ve had a sense of urgency ever since my mother had Alzheimer’s.”

Gravelle was joined by Alzheimer Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County executive director Kathy Wright who spoke of caring for her own mother who had Alzheimer’s disease for 15 years.

Wright pointed out that in 2011, dementia caregivers “spent 444 million unpaid hours providing care.”
“In economic terms this represents $11 billion in lost income and 230,000 full-time jobs,” she said. “We cannot afford these crippling costs.”

The Conservatives who spoke during the one-hour debate described the bill as “well-intentioned” but stressed efforts the government has already made in addressing dementia.

“While our federal focus on dementia is on research, data gathering, and awareness training, we have always tried to recognize the key role of co-operation with the provinces and territories, which are the primary providers of health care,” said the parliamentary secretary to the Health Minister Cathy McLeod. “It is important to note that in a crucial way, we are actually already ahead of Bill C-356 when it comes to working with the provinces.”

Conservative MP Leon Benoit commended Gravelle for bringing public attention to dementia.

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