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

Alberta vehicles allegedly damaged in Summerland

Lug nuts loosened, windows smashed in several instances in Okanagan community

Town of Osoyoos battling sewer odour issues

The town is apologizing for the odour emitted from its sewage treatment plant

Petition calls for traffic light at intersection of Highway 97 and Skaha Lake Road

The area frequently sees collisions in the summer according to petition

VIDEO: Crews in Summerland film Christmas parade in July

Filming, on July 31, took place during the hottest days of 2020

UPDATE: Solco Creek fire east of Okanagan Falls now classified as held

13.8 hectare was classified as out of control until Aug. 3

B.C. records 146 new COVID-19 cases through long weekend

More that 28 people tested positive for the virus each day since Friday

Passengers escape unharmed from destructive houseboat fire in Shuswap

Cause of blaze on Mara Lake under investigation, flames erupt at 2 a.m. Aug. 4

Interior Health reports nine new cases of COVID-19, 149 linked to Kelowna

Nine new cases were reported in the Interior Health region over the long weekend’s four reporting periods

Former Kelowna resident makes fundraising goal for cancer fertility treatments

Rebecca Hamilton recieved a boost in a battle against cancer - $25,000 for post chemo treatments

Study shines light on what makes LGBTQ+ youth feel safe in a community

The study goes beyond looking at school or family supports

Alberta to require masks at schools this fall, but still no mandate in B.C.

B.C. students are also set to return to classrooms in September

UPDATE: Water bombers attack wildfire north of Sicamous above Shuswap Lake

Wildfire BC reports fire is still classified out of control, 25 personnel on ground

First degree murder charges for North Okanagan woman

59-year-old woman charged in Round Lake suspicious death incident

Most Read