Preparing for a deluge of dementia

Posted on January 5, 2010 in Health Debates – Opinions/Editorial – Preparing for a deluge of dementia
Posted: January 05, 2010.   Editorial, Canadian politics

Nearly a half million Canadians — about 1.5% of the population — currently suffer from some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Thirty years from now, as baby boomers age and live longer than any previous generation, that figure will rise to over 1.1 million (2.8%), according to a new study by the Alzheimer Society of Canada (ASC). At that point, the cost of treating and caring for Alzheimer’s patients could rise to $153-billion annually from $15-billion each year now.

The ASC says Canada needs a national plan to prepare for this deluge of dementia or it may bankrupt our public health plans. So here’s our plan: Boomers and the generations behind them should start salting away money to pay for their own in-home care should they develop dementia, and buy private insurance to cover the possibility that they will need long-term, institutionalized care at some point in their declining years.

In its report on the coming dementia crunch, the ASC estimates there will be a rise of over 400,000 long-term beds by 2038, up from the current inventory of 280,000. Despite this nearly 150% increase, though, there could still be a shortfall of nearly 160,000 beds equipped to deal with dementia sufferers.

So those approaching retirement — and those with a couple of decades to go — need to contemplate the very real possibility that government care will not be there for them or their spouses. At best, state care for the mental illnesses of the aged will be spotty. Those who have prepared in advance, particularly financially, will undoubtedly find more of the care they require than those who wait around for Ottawa or the provinces to provide “free” services.

Not everyone will be able to afford dementia-care savings or insurance. But those who can should include it in their personal plans, just in case the public planning the ASC has in mind falls short — as much public health planning does.

“This national plan would prepare for and mitigate the burden of dementia on Canadian society and direct health expenditures toward activities that have the greatest potential to maximize quality of life, support individuals and families [and] make best use of our scarce health human resources,” Richard Nakoneczny, the ASC’s volunteer president told reporters.

And who knows, politicians and bureaucrats might this time strike just the right balance between quality care and the “best use” of limited public resources — even though they’ve seldom, if ever, done it before.

On the other hand, who wants to take the risk that the central health planners might get it wrong? Especially since public health insurance plans cannot continue expanding to meet the needs of an aging populations without eventually bankrupting taxpayers

Private health savings and insurance aren’t perfect. But they are more likely to permit individuals to arrange for the care they need and want.

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