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

Just Posted

Man gets 18 months jail for dealing heroin, fentanyl in Vernon

Sung Hwan Choi, 23, found guilty of trafficking drugs from Lower Mainland in May 2019

Open house event to honour Vernon pillar Nahal

City councillor, event organizer and volunteer Dalvir Nahal to be celebrated Sunday

Win free groceries through Vernon store’s fundraiser

Simply Delicious teamed up with CMHA in support of youth programming

Vernon man wanted by police

RCMP ask for public’s help in locating man charged with aggravated assault

Telephone lines down at 18 Avenue in Vernon

Vernon Fire Rescue Services have reopened 18th Ave after clearing the lines from the road

VIDEO: ‘Climate emergency’ is Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

Other words on the shortlist included ‘extinction,’ ‘climate denial’ and ‘eco-anxiety’

Three cops investigated in connection to ex-Vancouver detective’s sexual misconduct

Fisher was convicted in 2018 after pleading guilty to kissing two young women who were witnesses in a criminal case

Violence response procedures updated for B.C. schools, police

ERASE program expands to target gangs, bullying of students

A pawsitive ending: Missing puppy found after nine-day search in Chilliwack

Pit bull Frankie ran from dog sitter booked through app

Letter: Spouse of Shuswap first responder shares challenges, gratitude

One in three first responders suffer in silence, resources available to help them and their families

Kelowna to host 2021 Tim Hortons Brier

The last time Kelowna hosted the tournament was in 1968

Federal laws at heart of West’s anger up for debate, as Liberals begin outreach

Vancouver mayor to Trudeau’s western critics: ‘Get over yourselves’

Snowboard pioneer Jake Burton Carpenter dies at 65

He was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011

Pawsative Pups: To crate or not to crate

Lisa Davies is a new columnist for Black Press who writes about dog training

Most Read