The Thunder Bay Alzheimer Society is calling for national action on dementia.

The society says Canada doesn’t have a national strategy, unlike some of its counterparts at a G-8 meeting held Wednesday in the U.K. to discuss how to tackle the disease.

It was clear to Susan Bithrey the health-care system couldn't cope when her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

"You get this … double message,” she said. “First of all, 'we've seen this all before, you're not a new problem,' but [then] 'gee, what are we going to do with you?'”

Bithrey said it's especially hard to get help when people suffering from dementia become aggressive.

Such was the case when Bithrey’s husband, a retired teacher who also designed and built houses, suddenly deteriorated and the Alzheimer's made him behave aggressively.

The dramatic change happened about five years after his diagnosis, Bithrey said. Up until then, her husband was able to live at home with her and stay as active as possible.

The health-care system didn't have the resources to cope with her husband’s condition and the situation became “terrifying,” Bithrey said.

“At one point ... [Reg] was in ... emergency for one whole week, sleeping in the hallway."

He now receives care at the Lakehead Psychiatric Hospital.

Can't 'wait any longer'

The head of Thunder Bay’s Alzheimer Society estimated 3,850 people in northwestern Ontario suffer from dementia — and she expects that number to rise 19 per cent by 2020.

Alison Denton

Alison Denton, who is head of the Alzheimer Society of Thunder Bay, estimates almost 4,000 people in northwestern Ontario suffer from the disease and says that number is on the rise. (Alzheimer Society of Thunder Bay)

"If we're not currently meeting the needs and that number is going to rise ... then we've got some work to do,” Alison Denton said, adding the health care system needs better services for dementia patients, including home care, respite for family caregivers, and long-term care.

Denton said training for health-care staff and investment in research are also urgently needed.

"Research for treatment, research ... into prevention and research into [a] possible cure,” she said.

"That money has not been there. It's certainly not been on the same level as other chronic conditions [such as] heart and stroke [and] cancer." 

But a coordinated national strategy needs to be in place to make all that happen, Denton noted.  

"We have a huge problem,” she said. “I don't think we can afford to wait any longer."