Almost every week in Canada someone with dementia goes missing. (Black Press file)

B.C. VIEWS: Is your community ready for the dementia wave?

Experts warn that the number of people living with dementia could nearly double in the next decade

When Ethel Baranyk walked away from her Chilliwack home last July, the 89-year-old woman wasn’t the first person with dementia to go missing.

Nor would she be the last.

Three months later, the community again was mobilizing to find Ioan (John) Pop – a 79-year-old whose Alzheimer’s had robbed him of the ability to find his way home.

The incidences are not unique. Almost every week in Canada someone with dementia goes missing. Most are found quickly, providing a terrifying few moments for family and caregivers, and a valuable lesson for the future.

But not all cases end so well.

Baranyk’s body was found five weeks after she disappeared; Pop’s body was found four days later in a wooded area near where he was last seen.

These are private tragedies.

READ MORE: ‘There is a life to live after a diagnosis’: UBC study probes stigma of dementia

But they are also public calls for action.

Those familiar with Alzheimer’s (the leading cause of dementia), understand that wandering is one characteristic of the disease. It’s estimated that 60 per cent of people with Alzheimer’s will wander.

Dealing with this behaviour in a humane and respectful way is one of the challenges in dementia care – a challenge that will only become greater in the coming years.

It is estimated that the incidents of dementia will increase as we live longer and the number of seniors grows. Although dementia is not assured with age, it does become more likely.

Already there are more than 419,000 people over the age of 65 living with dementia in Canada. Their cost to our health care system and individual caregivers is estimated at $8.3 billion annually.

That amount will double to $16.6 billion in 11 years.

It’s a stark reality that prompted the federal government to launch the country’s first national strategy on dementia earlier this year. The initiative allocates $70 million over the next five years, aimed at prevention, research, and improvement of patient care and support for caregivers.

It’s a lot of money. But the Alzheimer Society of Canada says more than twice that amount is needed to deal with what they call a looming healthcare crisis.

For those caring for people with dementia, the crisis is already here. The fear that a loved one may go missing weighs heavily with every family.

The most recent disappearances renewed calls for an alert system in B.C., similar to the Amber Alert used when a child is abducted. The so-called Silver Alert would hasten response time in the critical few hours after a person with dementia (or some other cognitive disability) goes missing, proponents say.

Other initiatives include one currently championed by the Alzheimer Society of BC that calls for “Dementia Friendly Communities.” The society is providing tools and expertise to help municipalities be more responsive to the needs of persons with dementia.

These are conversations we must have.

While individual families struggle to find ways to best treat, care for and support their loved ones, we as a community must do better.

We need to ensure that the work already done in the creation of the national strategy on dementia continues, and that the money and political will is sufficient to see it through.

Failure to do that abandons our most vulnerable, and ignores the dementia crisis that science tells us is coming.

Greg Knill is a columnist and former editor with Black Press Media. Email him at greg.knill@blackpress.ca

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

UPDATE: Wildfire northeast of Clinton put out by BC Wildfire Service

Fire at 51 Mile Creek suspected to be lightning-caused

QUIZ: How much do you know about British Columbia?

On this B.C. Day long weekend, put your knowledge of our province to the test

Fishing Highway a ‘land of hidden waters’

Irene Meili has spent the past three years trying to lure more guests to the Fishing Highway.

Bursaries and bake sales at South Green Lake

Drive-thru homemade pie sale a huge success in a trying time

Amidst heatwaves, officials remind public to take water safety seriously

RCMP, Search and Rescue and BC branch of Lifesaving Society offer recommendations to those water-bound

Alberta to require masks at schools this fall, but still no mandate in B.C.

B.C. students are also set to return to classrooms in September

Interior Health expands COVID-19 testing access in Kelowna

First-come, first-serve, no-appointment-needed testing centre opens in downtown Kelowna

30% of British Columbians would ‘wait and see’ before taking COVID vaccine: poll

Some are concerned about side effects, while others don’t think the virus is a big deal

Don’t leave your hand sanitizer in the sun and other tips to stay COVID safe this summer

Being mindful of staying outside and keeping hand sanitizer, sunscreen out of the sun recommended

What exactly is ‘old growth’ B.C. forest, and how much is protected?

Forests minister Doug Donaldson doesn’t support ‘moratorium’

Canadians can travel to Hawaii in September; no quarantine with negative COVID test

Travellers will be required to pay for their own tests prior to arriving

Anonymous letters tell Vancouver Island family their kids are too loud

Letter said the noise of kids playing in Parksville backyard is ‘unbearable’

Michael Buble among 13 British Columbians to receive Order of B.C.

Ceremony will be delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19

Most Read