01/22/2014 05:16 EST | Updated 03/24/2014 05:59 EDT

There Are 747,000 Canadians Living With Dementia

For those of you who read my post, I know this isn't what I usually write about but I felt like it was an important topic to touch on because January is Alzheimer Awareness Month.

And for those touched by this disease or other forms of dementia, feelings of deep sadness and frustration are sure to come up. Whether you've experienced the loss of friend or family member or have witnessed someone struggle with having to say the "long goodbye" to a loved one, most of us can empathize with the profound loss.

I also celebrate my birthday in January and have noticed that when in my 20s, every birthday felt like it brought me closer to what I thought was becoming cooler, trendier, but now, since turning 40, each year brings with it a greater awareness of the importance of one's health and the role of healthcare in our society.

With baby boomers now reaching both middle and old age, our population is aging at a much faster rate than generations before. Did you know that almost 15 per cent of Canadians are 65 years or older? This number used to be only 8 per cent in the early 1970s. Most baby boomers want to stay in their own homes as they age, instead of care facilities, and I totally get that. But the reality is that this puts a lot of pressure on both their loved ones to provide support as well as our healthcare system. And as we look ahead, with more and more people choosing to have only one child, or in many cases, remain childless, this strain will only intensify.

It was shocking for me to learn that there are currently over 747,000 Canadians living with dementia and according to research by the Alzheimer Society, this number will almost double within a generation. Dementia costs us $33 billion a year and with the projected increase in diagnoses, that price will skyrocket to $293 billion by 2040. In 2011, family members who had loved ones suffering from dementia spent, in total, 444-million unpaid hours a year providing care, which resulted in $11 billion in lost income and almost 230,000 full-time jobs.

I recently learned about an organization called Green Shield Canada Foundation (GSCF), a national not-for-profit health benefits provider. Their three-year project, called the Health Innovation Collaborative (HIC), has an overall aim to address these concerns by improving the access of information and quality of care for seniors and to give people the choice to make informed decisions. The HIC is a pretty extensive project, includes five other partners, and covers all sorts of homecare issues and treatments such as house calls, resources for chronic disease sufferers and an online support system that helps patients figure out what care they get from OHIP and where to find medical equipment they can bring home.

One of the HIC programs is the Dementia Care Training Program, developed by the Alzheimer Society of Toronto. It is an online training course for Personal Support Workers (PSW) and caregivers, in dementia care excellence. This will allow seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia to be better cared for in their homes, while providing invaluable support to their loved ones at the same time.

Taking the Dementia Care Training Program can arm PSWs with the knowledge and confidence they need to provide the best care for patients and their families. It can teach them how to be more sensitive to the symptoms, to ease the discomfort and unease of those affected, and ultimately to provide the reassurance that both the person with dementia, and their loved ones, desperately need. It's a really hard disease to battle; whether you're on the inside or on the sidelines. Often, just knowing there's a hand for you to hold onto can be such a relief.

One of the hardest things to think about when we're young is realizing that as we age, these issues will likely affect all of us in someway; the key, I think, is to be prepared, to approach these issues from a compassionate place and to remember that knowledge is power.

xo Natasha


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