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Province takes on Alzheimer’s challenge

June 2009

In a show of solidarity to the 120,000 individuals and their families across Quebec struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease, 500 walkers converged at the Quay of the Old Port for the third Rona Memory Walk organized by the Alzheimer Society of Montreal on May 31. Across the province, 20 other Alzheimer Societies organized walks as well, with the goal of raising $2,000,000 to improve the Society’s programs and services. “We make up a large family of solidarity,” said Montreal mayor Gérald Tremblay. “There is a strong message of hope; ever y step is important.” Alzheimer Montreal raised over $83,000.

The supporters of the 5km walk heard some good news as Yves Bolduc, minister of health and social services, said that Quebec will create an action plan regarding the management of Alzheimer’s Disease and other chronic illnesses. Bolduc made public a report drafted by a team of experts, led by Dr. Howard Bergman, an internationally renowned researcher in aging, titled Relever le défi de la maladie d’Alzheimer et des maladies apparentées. The recommendations in the comprehensive report, which pinpoints challenges and defines objectives, will play an integral part in the strategic plan that the health ministry will elaborate over the next six years, Bolduc said.

500 walkers joined the memory walk at the Old Port Photos: Kristine Berey

Hope came also from Marguerite Blais, the minister responsible for seniors and families, who said that the province recognizes the crucial role caregivers play in managing the illness and that funds would be available to help them. “Of a budget of $200 million over 10 years, at least 75 per cent will be devoted to people who work with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or a related illness. The ultimate goal is to sustain, accompany, relieve and inform people who care for their loved ones in circumstances that are often very difficult.” Alzheimer’s Disease, a neuro-degenerative illness, has no known cure and no reliable method of early diagnosis. Although medications can now slow its progress, there is no treatment that can alter its course. With the aging of the population, the number of people affected is rising astronomically. “One out of five baby-boomers can expect to suffer from Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Bergman says.

While this year 100,000 Quebecers have the disease, in 20 years 160,000 will be affected. In the United States, the advanced stage of the disease is diagnosed in a patient every 70 seconds. In 2000, costs related to the illness across Canada reached $5.5 billion.

Yet, internationally, research into Alzheimer’s and related dementias remains chronically underfunded. According to Bergman’s report the funds allocated to Alzheimer’s by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research represent 3 per cent of their budget. In 2007-08, $26 million was allocated to Alzheimer’s research while $170 million was earmarked for cancer research. The impact of this disease on the health care system is underestimated, Bergman says.

Gilles Duceppe walks alongside Helen Fotopoulos and Marguerite Blais

For example, Alzheimer’s patients with another chronic illness will stay in the hospital twice as long as a person the same age and with the same illness but without Alzheimer’s. Research is also important, Dr. Bergman said, because it is conceivable that not far in the future a medication may be developed that may alter the course of the disease, in which case early diagnosis would be imperative. Recently Dr. Hemant Paudel of McGill University and the Lady Davis Research Institute at the Jewish General Hospital took one step closer to that goal. Paudel discovered that the action of a single phosphate on a particular protein in the brain is the culprit responsible for the tangles that wreak havoc in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. “The possibility of early diagnosis now exists,” Dr. Paudel says. “The enzyme which puts this phosphate on [the protein] can be targeted by drugs, so therapies can be developed. This discovery gives us, for the first time, a clear direction towards the early diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s.”

Dr. Bergman’s report is available in French at

For information or to donate to the Alzheimer Society of Montreal, call 514-369-0800.



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