Nova Scotians are struggling to access a dementia diagnosis. We know this because we hear it every day through our one-on-one support and our education and client support programs. It was also a key takeaway from the consultations to develop Nova Scotia’s dementia strategy.
We also know that we can have the greatest impact on people with dementia and their care partners when they are referred through our First Link® program after a timely diagnosis (up to 11 months sooner than those who self-refer to our services). A timely diagnosis means that clients are proactively supported in understanding dementia, planning for the future and mitigating crises.
How did we get here?
To know when to seek professional support, it’s important for the public to understand the 10 warning signs of dementia. When most people think of dementia they think memory loss, but there are 9 additional warning signs that many are not aware of. Dementia can also be surrounded by stigma, which can delay a person’s likelihood of seeking care.
In addition to people not seeking a diagnosis for the reasons above, there is a lack of resources for those who are.
At least 15% of our population do not have a primary care provider, relying on walk in clinics or emergency rooms. Those that do can still face barriers as many primary care providers report feeling under resourced and ill equipped to diagnose and provide dementia care. In these instances, patients are typically referred to a specialist whose speciality is often not necessary for a standard presentation of symptoms. Relying on specialists for routine dementia diagnosis and care can result in significant wait times for people experiencing changes and seeking answers.
Wait times can be up to 18 months, depending on where you live in the province. That is 18 months where the person could have had access to medication, support and resources. It’s 18 months where their quality of life could be significantly improved.
Nova Scotians suspecting potential dementia deserve access to timely, accurate support. This issue will continue to get worse if we do not identify solutions. The Landmark Report Volume 1 showed us that the number of Nova Scotians living with dementia could almost double over the next 30 years. We need to make changes in our current system to support future need.
What are we going to do about it?
While we cannot change it by ourselves, we’re committed to providing support to the healthcare system to make a change through the Gray Initiative on Diagnosis.
Over the past two years, this initiative has been a persistent, behind-the-scenes effort, in honour of one of our founding members, Dr. John Gray. Dr. Gray was behind the development of the memory clinic at the Veteran’s Memorial Hospital in 1987, and a mentor to many in the geriatric field across the country and beyond.
The goal of this initiative is that all Nova Scotians, no matter their community, can access a timely, thoughtful diagnosis, tailored care plan and be connected to ongoing support.
We’re learning from the experiences of our Alzheimer Society peers to learn how diagnosis has been better supported in other jurisdictions across Canada. We are actively collaborating with Nova Scotia Health and the provincial Department of Health & Wellness to explore solutions to improve access to a dementia diagnosis in this province. We do not have all of the answers yet, but we are committed to finding them.