It’s a tsunami.
That’s how Dr. Brian Goldman, host of CBC radio’s White Coat, Black Art, described the impact of dementia at a public awareness session hosted by the Alzheimer Society of Calgary in 2011. Dr. Goldman was speaking not only about the growing numbers of people who will be diagnosed with the disease in the coming years, but also about the overwhelming pressure that will be placed on a society ill-prepared for this crisis.
Dementia (the most common being Alzheimer’s disease) impacts a person’s thinking, memory, and behaviour. These are fatal, progressive, and degenerative diseases of the brain that primarily affect vulnerable seniors and our aging community in Calgary, along with their social networks. Currently, there is no known cause or cure. The lifetime risk of dementia is 1 in 4 for women and 1 in 6 for men.
As with aging, our city is on the edge of a rising tide with dementia. More than 12,000 Calgarians (about 10% of our seniors) live with dementia and 8 more will develop it today (2,800 this year). For every person who is diagnosed with dementia, 10 to 12 additional individuals are also affected by the diagnosis. Even more concerning is the fact that these numbers are expected to double within the next 20 years. As a growing social and systemic issue, dementia has the potential to overwhelm families, communities, workforces and our healthcare systems in Calgary.
The most common risk factor for dementia is aging. The City of Calgary estimates that by 2042, the number of seniors will grow to more than 280,000, at which point they will comprise 15% of Calgary’s total population. Our population of seniors aged 65+ will be the fastest growing age group, with a growth rate that is twice as high as the total population and three times as high as for children aged 0-14.
The need for action on dementia within our own community is comprehensive and immediate. Given the above statistics, it was clear to us that there is a need for an integrated approach that spans the traditional boundaries of sector and discipline.