Backgrounder Article from  Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Backgrounder: CIHR Scientific Director named Chair of World Dementia Council

Dementia describes a variety of neurological conditions characterized by the gradual loss of mental functions over time. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for approximately 60 percent of all dementia cases. Vascular dementia is another common form, which is linked to reduced blood flow to the brain. Most often, symptoms include loss of memory, impaired judgement and reasoning, change in mood and behaviour, and impaired ability to communicate.

There is no known cure and the causes of dementia are not precisely known. Possible risk factors include physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, environmental influences, genetic factors, and traumatic brain injury. Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.

It is estimated that in 2011, 6-15 percent of Canadians aged 65 years and older were living with some form of dementia. The absolute number of Canadian seniors who are living with dementia is expected to double by 2031.

Government of Canada efforts to tackle dementia

The Government of Canada recognizes the significant impact dementia has on individuals, their families, and their caregivers. Three of every four Canadians know someone with dementia.

Through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Government of Canada supports dementia research so Canadians have access to the latest preventive, diagnostic and treatment approaches. Since its inception in 2000, CIHR has invested approximately $367 million in dementia research, including over $41 million in 2014-15 alone.

One example of that investment is the launch of the Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (or CCNA) in 2014 – a partnership with 14 organizations and which brings together over 350 researchers from across Canada to improve diagnosis, treatments, and quality of life for dementia patients and their caregivers. The CCNA is part of the CIHR Dementia Research Strategy which supports world-class research on dementia, and also enables Canadian researchers to lead and participate in international initiatives.

In summer 2015, the Government of Canada launched Dementia Friends Canada, in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Canada. Dementia Friends Canada targets individuals and workplaces across the country through a digital engagement campaign where Canadians can watch a short, informative video; register as a Dementia Friend; and commit to an action to help those affected by dementia. The goal is to have 1 million Canadians registered as Dementia Friends by 2017, which would provide a platform to share further information about dementia with a focus on early identification and prevention.

The Government of Canada is providing $42 million over five years, starting this year, to Baycrest Health Sciences to help establish the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation. Funding for the Centre will support new research and the development, testing, and scale-up of products and services to support brain health and aging, with a focus on dementia. The Government of Canada is the largest of more than 40 partners from the public, business, academic and non-profit sectors, which will invest a total of $123.5M in the initiative.

About the World Dementia Council

Founded in 2014, the World Dementia Council consists of international members with a wide range of expertise and disciplines including researchers, pharmaceutical industries, government representatives, finance experts and patients. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the European Commission contribute to the Council as non-members, with technical advisory roles. The goal of the Council is to coordinate global efforts to tackle dementia. They do so by providing independent, non-governmental advocacy and global leadership.

Dr. Yves Joanette, Scientific Director for the CIHR Institute of Aging, is the newly appointed Chair. He was voted by the other members. Dr. Joanette replaces the inaugural Chair, Dr. Dennis Gillings. The Council's Vice-Chair is Dr. Raj Long, a senior regulatory officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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