06/23/2015 12:17 EDT | Updated 06/23/2016 05:59 EDT

Nova Scotia dementia strategy will bring added funding for paid care in homes

HALIFAX - Halifax resident Anne Hallisey calls the rising tide of Alzheimer's cases in Nova Scotia "a tsunami."

"That's what it is because of the huge number of people who are getting it," she said, sitting in the classroom where the provincial health minister had just announced a three-year strategy Tuesday to cope with the illness.

The province says as part of the strategy it is shifting $579,000 in Health Department funds to allow more people under 65 to stay in their homes.

The money will also help reduce wait lists for programs operated by the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia.

Like other family caregivers, Hallisey said she sees the need for the improvements in a province with 17,000 diagnosed cases and predictions that the number of seniors with the disease will double by 2038.

"I hope ... that we can stay in our home and my husband won't need to go to long-term care," she said, after participating with her 84-year-old spouse Jack in an art class held just prior to the news conference.

The province's Health Minister Leo Glavine said during his announcement that the financially-strapped province can't afford to add funds to its budget.

But he promised to start diverting funds to help support family caregivers.

"This is a strategy we're committed to investing in. We know it will be several million dollars on an annual basis if we're picking up more care for family members ," he said.

Many of the 27 measures announced Tuesday as part of the province's strategy included low-cost measures like updating a help line for caregivers and increasing public education and physician training.

The minister also said partnering with the Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia will be key, as it helps fund programs such as the Family Caregiver Education Series, a six-week education course for caregivers.

The opposition New Democrats said the province will also have to contend with a growing number of people in need of permanent long-term care.

"While we look forward to reviewing the strategy in more detail, we can't help but be concerned that at the same time the government is releasing its dementia strategy, it's also cutting funding to long term care facilities," said Maureen MacDonald, the leader of the New Democrats.

Heather Fifield, whose husband has dementia and is now in long-term care, said families can become exhausted as they attempt to negotiate paperwork and bureaucracy to find help.

"Some people who are being cared for at home really need 24-hour help," said Fifield, who was the family representative on the advisory committee that drafted the strategy.

"More and more volunteers or caregivers that can come in who are paid would make it easier for family caregivers."