Dementia

Data show that more than 432,000 Canadians (65 years and older) are living with diagnosed dementia, almost two thirds of whom are women. As this number does not include those under age 65 who may have a young onset diagnosis nor those that have not been diagnosed, the true picture of dementia in Canada may be somewhat larger. With a growing and aging population, this number of Canadians with dementia is expected to increase.

Learn about dementia and how Canada is helping those who live with the condition.

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Defining dementia

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a set of symptoms affecting brain function that are caused by neurodegenerative and vascular diseases or injuries. It is characterized by a decline in cognitive abilities and can impact mood and behaviour. The cognitive abilities that can be impacted include:

  • memory
  • awareness of person, place and time
  • language
  • basic math skills
  • judgement
  • planning

As a chronic and progressive condition, dementia can significantly interfere with the ability to maintain activities of daily living (PDF), such as:

  • eating
  • bathing
  • toileting
  • dressing 

Alzheimer's disease, vascular disease and other types of disease all contribute to dementia. Other common types of dementia include:

  • Lewy body dementia
  • frontotemporal dementia
  • mixed dementias

In rare instances, dementia may be linked to infectious diseases, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

Reducing the risk of dementia

While dementia is not an inevitable part of aging, age is the most important risk factor. Interventions to address modifiable risk factors and reduce the risk of dementia, such as those presented in the World Health Organization's guidelines on risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia (PDF), include:

  • physical activity
  • quitting smoking
  • eating a healthy balanced diet
  • reducing or quitting harmful alcohol use
  • maintaining a healthy weight and management of:
    • diabetes
    • high blood pressure
    • unhealthy cholesterol levels

Developing a dementia strategy for Canada

Beginning in June 2017, following the enactment of the National Strategy for Alzheimer's Disease and Other Dementias Act, we began a broad engagement to further understand the impacts of dementia in Canada. Diverse perspectives were gathered through engagement, including with the 6 stakeholder groups mentioned in the act, which are: 

  1. researchers
  2. health care providers
  3. family/friend caregivers
  4. dementia advocacy groups 
  5. people living with dementia
  6. representatives of provincial and territorial governments

Stakeholders were engaged through:

We also commissioned expert reports, reviewed stakeholder submissions and initiated what we anticipate will be an ongoing dialogue with Indigenous organizations. The result of this engagement is documented in the What We Heard Report: Informing a Dementia Strategy for Canada.

The strategy also includes guidance received from the Ministerial Advisory Board on Dementia, and gathered through engagement with provincial and territorial governments, and other federal organizations.

Canada's first national dementia strategy, released in June 2019, sets out a vision for the future and identifies common principles and objectives to help guide actions by:

  • all levels of government
  • non-government organizations
  • communities
  • families
  • individuals

In developing the strategy, we sought to ensure that people living with dementia and the family and friends who provide care to them were at the heart of these efforts.

Research, funding and data

Canada has invested close to $200 million on dementia-related research over the last 5 years through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. More than 350 Canadian researchers are involved in dementia research through the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging.

In addition, Budget 2018 committed $20 million over 5 years and $4 million per year to create the Dementia Community Investment, which supports community-based projects that address the challenges of dementia.

Building on the Budget 2018 investment, Budget 2019 proposes an investment of $50 million over 5 years, starting in 2019–2020, to support the implementation of the national dementia strategy. This investment will support efforts on:

  • increased awareness on dementia to reduce risk and address stigma
  • treatment guidelines
  • best practices for early diagnosis
  • better understanding the impact of dementia in our communities through surveillance 

Canada is working with the provinces and territories to conduct surveillance of some neurological conditions (conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord or nerves) in the Canadian population. The first annual reporting began in 2017. This work includes analysis and reporting on the number of:

  • existing cases of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease
  • newly diagnosed cases of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease

Information about programs and services on dementia in my area

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