Alzheimer’s disease is the most expensive illness in Canada.

And the Alzheimer Society of Canada says by 2040, dementia will cost the economy $293 billion a year.

“Unless we find a cure, or figure out how to prevent or reverse this disease, we and our children will be paying for dementia for a very long time. Dementia is a ticking time bomb,” says the society’s CEO, Mimi Lowi-Young. She addressed the Economic Club of Canada today in Toronto.

She wants the federal government to help create a national dementia strategy to deal with the disease and its effects on the economy.

Some 747,000 Canadians were living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, in 2011.

Read: The perils of not planning for incapacity

The baby boom generation is turning 65, a prime time for developing dementia. The Alzheimer’s Society notes the risk of dementia doubles every five years after that.

By 2031, the number of Canadians with the disease is expected to rise to 1.4 million. And for every person with dementia, two or three people devote time to caring for them, says Lowi-Young.

That’s affecting our economy.

Already, dementia costs Canada $33 million a year in lost wages and medical expenses. In 2011, Canada’s economy lost $11 billion in productivity as family caregivers worked 444 million unpaid hours taking care of their relatives with dementia—the equivalent of 230,000 full time jobs, Lowi-Young says.

By 2040, caregivers will work 1.2 billion unpaid hours.

Worldwide, there are 35.6 million people living with dementia—more than the population of Canada—and it’s costing the global economy US$604 billion a year.

Read: Canadians exposed to cost of critical illnesses

People can develop dementia as early as their forties. Symptoms include memory loss and changes to judgment and reasoning. Sufferers eventually can’t perform tasks like feeding themselves and need around-the-clock care, taxing Canada’s public health system.

We need to keep people productive and in their communities for as long as possible, says Lowi-Young.

Seed money for a national dementia strategy would cost the feds $100 million, with an additional $30 million over five years. The strategy would stimulate research, develop best care practices and streamline services.

The government has already invested about $250 million in dementia research. Lowi-Young says that number is dwarfed by the future economic impact of the disease.

France, Australia, the UK and the U.S. are working on plans to address dementia. G8 countries will meet in Britain in December to discuss a global strategy.

Talk to clients about dementia

There is a cultural taboo surrounding dementia and death, but don’t let that stop you from addressing the best interests of your clients. Ensure their estate plans include designating power of attorney in case they develop dementia down the line. Without one, your client’s family may end up in court. If your client owns property, consider using a trust or Continuing Power of Attorney for Property to protect it.

Work with your clients to make sure their retirement savings or an emergency fund will provide for them during illness. Cost out the standard of care your client expects and help them invest accordingly.

If Alzheimer’s and dementia is a concern to a number of clients you represent, consider getting a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging designation to better-serve their needs.

And don’t forget the power of family. Build connections with the children of your clients. You’ll need to have a solid relationship so that difficult decisions can be made smoothly down the line.


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