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

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

Kitselas First Nation received a round of COVID-19 vaccine shots. (Kitselas First Nation image)
Kitselas receives COVID-19 vaccine

Delivery of vaccine was expedited after cluster of cases in community

Northern Health has issued COVID-19 exposure notices for Uplands Elementary School and Centennial Christian School in Terrace. (COVID-19/ CDC Image)
Two more COVID-19 exposure notices issued for schools in Terrace

Exposures took place at Uplands Elementary School and Centennial Christian School

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
Canadian, American rescue crews searching for missing aircraft in waters near Victoria

The search is centered around the waters northeast of Port Angeles

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
Modelling of predicted transmission growth from the B117 COVID-19 variant in British Columbia. (Simon Fraser University)
COVID-19 variant predicted to cause ‘unmanageable’ case spike in B.C: report

SFU researchers predict a doubling of COVID-19 cases every two weeks if the variant spreads

The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Canadians divided over Keystone pipeline, despite U.S. president’s permit pullback

Two-thirds of Canadians think Biden’s decision was a “bad thing” for Alberta

Most Read