Mount Allison professor studying dementia rates, effects of depopulation in NB
6/16/2015 9:38:01 AM
Frank Strain studies dementia, depopulation in NBSACKVILLE, NB – The number of dementia cases in Canada is predicted to double in the next 20 years and a researcher at Mount Allison University is looking at what this will mean for New Brunswick.  Economics professor Dr. Frank Strain’s latest research predicts the number of cases of dementia in New Brunswick in 2030, and shows that rural areas will be particularly hard hit. Strain’s study also looks at the implications for the province and the people who live here, published in the Journal of New Brunswick Studies this spring.

“Dementia is an interesting problem, because the cost of dementia is borne almost entirely by the individual and families of the sufferer,” explains Strain. 

The monetary costs are forecast to rise from $15 billion to $153 billion over the next 20 years, according Rising Tide: The Impact of Dementia on Canadian Society, produced by the Alzheimer Society of Canada in 2009.

The rise in cases is due to increasing life expectancy (the likelihood of developing dementia increasing with age, almost 25 per cent of people at the age of 85 and 50 per cent of 90 year-olds develop some form of dementia) and aging baby boomers.

Strain says the problems caused by dementia are more complicated in New Brunswick than elsewhere in Canada. 

“What is happening here is that many regions are suffering from depopulation and depopulation of a very specific age group, young people between the ages of 19 and 35,” says Strain.

“What this means is that in the next few years there are not going to be the middle aged kids around to provide the traditional care or to do the diagnosis of dementia and that is a huge problem given the importance of the role the family plays in diagnosing dementia and providing care.”

Strain says it is also a very selective outward migration occurring mainly in rural areas. 

“If you look at Dieppe, the population is expanding rapidly whereas Bathurst has been losing its young people,” says Strain.

Strain calls his research paper “Searching for Tornadoes” because the numbers in each age group in a typical population form a pyramid, with more people in the lower age groups and fewer people as you move up through the older age groups.  A tornado population is the reverse of this shape.

Dieppe’s population in 2031 looks like a pyramid but the prediction for Bathurst shows a tornado. Strain found that all the tornados occurred in rural areas.

“The problem with the tornado is that the majority of the population is older and if they develop dementia, and there are fewer young people to look after them.”

To keep the costs down, strategies elsewhere in the country are based on early diagnosis and in-home care. According to Strain this will result in a particular challenge in rural NB as in many cases, the family members will not be there to assist with the early diagnosis and in-homecare. He also looked at where institutional care is located as a possible alternative strategy.

Strain says, “I thought for-profit special care homes might be part of a solution but they were not located where you would expect them to be based on economic variables. There were many more in the Francophone areas of the province.” 

Strain says further research will need to be done to understand why facilities are built in certain locations and not in others.

Photo caption: Mount Allison economics professor Frank Strain with some of the data he has collected looking at the number of dementia rates in NB and how this will affect rural areas of the province.