So many Canadians are expected to develop Alzheimer's disease and dementia in the next 30 years that a new case will develop every two minutes unless preventive measures are taken, a new report says.

The report, released Monday by the Alzheimer Society, says the prevalence of dementia will more than double in the next 30 years.

By 2038, almost three per cent of Canada's population will be affected by dementia, and about 257,800 new cases will be diagnosed per year.

Today, dementia costs Canada about $15 billion a year; those costs could soon increase by 10-fold.

"If nothing changes, this sharp increase in the number of people living with dementia will mean that by 2038, the total costs associated with dementia will reach $153 billion a year," David Harvey, principal spokesperson for the Alzheimer Society project called "Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society," said in a statement.

That amounts to a cumulative total of $872 billion over the 30-year period.

Much of the increase in cases can be attributed to the "greying" of Canada. With Canadians living longer and baby boomers aging, there is expected to be a spike in many chronic diseases that come with age, such as heart disease, arthritis and cancer.

But the expected rising rates of dementia are not just about demographics; poor lifestyles also play a role.

It's been well documented that regular physical and mental exercise can delay the onset of dementia, which includes Alzheimer's disease and other progressive diseases that destroy brain cells. For that reason, the report recommends that all Canadians over 65 without dementia increase their physical activity by 50 per cent.

"Prevention is where we need to be starting," Harvey told Canada AM.

"We know that healthy eating and active living are antidotes to dementia."

The "Rising Tide" report calls on government to fund more health promotion to remind Canadians of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

"This intervention would reduce the number of people diagnosed with dementia, resulting in a reduction in the pressure on long-term care facilities, community care services and informal caregivers," the report says.

Need for national strategy

Just as important, Harvey says, is the need for Canada's health care system to adapt to accommodate the projected rise in dementia cases.

"Dementia is one of the leading cases of disability amongst older people," Harvey said, noting that the flood of dementia expected in the next 30 years could overwhelm emergency rooms and hospitals.

His group's report calls for more support for informal caregivers -- generally, family members -- who tend to be the ones who care for patients with dementia in the early stages of the disease.

"There are services that can be put in place to support caregivers, and also economic and financial support for caregivers," he said.

By also providing caregivers with skill-building and support programs, caregivers struggling with the overwhelming emotional and financial hardships of providing care may feel better equipped to care for their loved one.

That could go far to delay admission of patients into long-term care facilities, thereby lessening the burden on the health care system.

The report also suggests assigning "system navigators" to each newly diagnosed dementia patient and their caregivers. These case managers would help families navigate the health system to find the right social services for their loved one depending on their stage of dementia.

Some facts about dementia:

  • The symptoms of dementia include a gradual and continuing decline of memory, changes in judgment or reasoning, mood and behaviour, and an inability to perform familiar tasks.
  • Dementia can strike adults at any age, but has traditionally been diagnosed in people over 65. However, symptoms start much earlier, and an increasing number of people are being diagnosed in their 50s and early 60s.
  • Age is the number one risk factor for dementia
  • Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, accounts for approximately 64 per cent of all dementias in Canada.
  • Other related dementias include Vascular Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease and Lewy body Dementia.
  • There is no known cure for dementia. However, some medications can delay progression of the disease.
  • Researchers are confident that within five to seven years, there will be treatments that attack the disease process itself, not just the symptoms.