You’d never it know it at first glance, but Keith Barrett is living with early-onset dementia, possibly Alzheimer’s disease.

The 59-year-old Ottawa resident is still driving and running a business, but the diagnosis he received two years ago has affected his life.

“It was hard to accept, and sometimes I still wonder if I want the diagnosis, but part of me says I’m glad I have the diagnosis, even though it is incurable,” he told CTV News.

“At least you can manage things as best as you can. You can put safeguards in place,” he added. “There’s a few things I had to give up but I’m still focusing on what I can do.”

Barrett is one of more than 564,000 the health minister said Canadians living with a form of dementia. That number is expected to rise to 937,000 by 2031.

Barrett’s wife, Robin Meyers, says her husband is still “so capable,” and that continuing to work is keeping his memory sharper. But she says more support is needed for families like hers.

“One of the things we face is there are no services, really, available for people who are under 65, no similar programs to what seniors have … really not a lot of counselling,” Meyers said.

“We need to have a strategy in Canada for when this number doubles in just 15 years,” she added. “For every person living with dementia there are at least one or two care partners.”

On Monday, Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced that Canada is joining with 29 other countries in implementing a national strategy to address those gaps.

The plan, called A Dementia Strategy for Canada: Together We Aspire, includes $50 million of funding over five years aimed at three key goals:

  • Finding ways to prevent these brain diseases
  • Finding more effective treatments, and
  • Improving services and home care for those living with dementia and their families.

Petitpas Taylor says the strategy is “near and dear” to her heart. Her mother Lina Petitpas was diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia nine years ago.

“Being the health minister and also being the daughter of a mother living with dementia, it is a very important day for me personally,” she said.

Petitpas Taylor says that her mother was fortunate enough to receive an early diagnosis. With the help of medication, the disease has progressed slowly.

“It is very difficult to see your family member losing their cognitive abilities but having received the information and the support that we needed from community organizations has really been tremendous,” she said.

At Monday’s announcement, the minister said the government aspires for a Canada where people living with dementia “feel supported, included and loved.”

“Together we aspire to a Canada where dementia is treated and prevented,” she said. “We aspire to a Canada where no one fears dementia.”

The national strategy coincided with an announcement from Baycrest’s Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto, which will become the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging’s scientific headquarters. More than 300 researchers will be working together to tackle conditions including dementia.

Barrett, who is doing his part to advance the cause as a co-founder of Dementia Advocacy Canada, calls the plan “the first step. “

“It’s long overdue,” he said. “When you have close to a million people in the next 10 to 15 years … They’ve got to do something now.”

“The dementia strategy, I’m hoping, will align our efforts right across the nation,” he added. “You can’t do it in seclusion.”

Alzheimer Society of Canada CEO Pauline Tardif says the society is thrilled by the national strategy, which she believes could lead to earlier diagnoses, reduced stigma and better treatments. But she says that a continued focus by government is key.

“It will be important for us to keep our pedal to the metal and ensure that this government and future governments understand that, to really have an impact, it needs to be fully funded and a successful implementation plan needs to accompany it,” she said.

Dr. Howard Chertkow, Scientific Director of the CCNA, said that although it’s “good to have goals and to have a plan … as far as research is concerned, (the funding) is the gas in the tank to allow scientist to reach the goal.”

“With the funding, we can deliver the answer in five to 10 years,” he said.