Catholics urged to support national dementia strategy

By Deborah Gyapong

Canadian Catholic News

OTTAWA (CCN) — An Ottawa Catholic husband and father whose wife suffers a rare early onset form of dementia hopes Canada’s bishops will help advance a national dementia strategy.

Matt Dineen, a teacher at an Ottawa Catholic high school, said he approached the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) to ask for support for a private member’s bill, C-356, calling for such a strategy now before the House of Commons.

Dineen said he also seeks to get ordinary Catholics involved because dementia is a growing problem as Canada’s population ages. Without a proactive approach support could grow for euthanasia, he said.

CCCB Gatineau Archbishop Paul-André Durocher said information has gone out to the bishops on this issue and each bishop is encouraged to respond individually if they want to, as they were invited to do on a private member’s bill calling for a national palliative care strategy.

Dineen, whose wife Lisa was diagnosed in January 2013 with frontotemporal dementia at the age of 43, spoke recently at the G7 Dementia Summit followup event in Ottawa called Global Action Against Dementia Legacy Event Sept. 11 - 12 at the invitation of Canada’s health minister Rona Ambrose.

In his speech, Dineen described his happy marriage to the mother of his three children and how it began to “unravel” when his wife began showing “behavioural and personality changes.”

“Failed marriage counselling, a haunting and chilling evening spent in a psychiatric ward, endless tests, much uncertainty, and a glimmer of hope, all characterized the time between August and December 2012,” he said. “I cannot begin to tell you how horrendous the situation was, especially the stress this created, which necessarily resulted in the breakdown of our relationship.”

A few months after the diagnosis, Lisa, a highly educated woman, was placed in a secure long-term care facility. “Since that day, March 25, 2013, I have been without a spouse and the children have been without a mother. In truth, I have become a widower with a living spouse.”

Dineen told those gathered in Ottawa that in addition to advancing research in discovering a cure and treatment for those with dementia, efforts must be made to help caregivers and “discover what services are lacking.”

“Research is critical, but with it we need a real plan to deliver funding, help for caregivers, early diagnosis and intervention, training for the workforces, and a continuum of primary, home and community care,” he said.

Dementia is not only a disease affecting the elderly, he said.

Dineen urged a co-ordinated approach to the development of treatment for dementia, including shorter and more targeted clinical trials for new drugs. “Those who work on clinical trials must remember the impact of the disease on all family members, not just the patient,” he said. “Positive results should lead to fast-tracking of new treatments to market, getting them to affected individuals as soon as possible.”

“Through national research investment, academia will deliver the threads necessary to build a treatment, or even a cure for dementia,” he said. “Within a supportive regulatory environment, industry will respond to the great world need, and bring those treatments to those who desperately need it.”

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