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A Treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease Is Finally On Its Way, but We’re Not Ready

Canada will likely soon have its first-ever Alzheimer’s disease treatment — but unaddressed barriers may get between the drug and those who need it.

This will be a deeply personal article for many of you. One in three Ontarians have a close family member — a parent, spouse, or sibling — who’s living with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Unlike other chronic diseases, dementia is often hidden from view — the struggles of isolated care partners concealed within the family home and the indignities endured by our elders too often ignored within overstretched and under-resourced long-term care homes. If this doesn’t resonate with you, more likely than not you have a friend, co-worker, or neighbour who’s intimately impacted by Ontario’s strained network of dementia care supports.


So when the U.S. approved the world’s first-ever treatment for Alzheimer’s disease itself, not just its underlying symptoms, the reaction in Canada was immediate and overwhelming. We at the Alzheimer Society of Ontario got hundreds of calls from people asking how they could join a clinical trial, when it would be available here, and if it was right for their loved one. Late last year, the U.S. got its second treatment, which has also now been submitted for approval in Europe and Japan (and, we hope, soon in Canada).

Finally, a real breakthrough

To be clear, these two drugs aren’t perfect. They’re expensive, come with side effects (some serious), and, as with anything in dementia care, one size will not fit all. But they’re a start — the first real breakthrough in dementia pharmacology in decades. As has been the case in other diseases, like MS, the first imperfect drugs will spur interest in developing more, and I hold out eternal hope that within my lifetime, we’ll find a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease that is broadly effective, affordable, and safe.

So it’s important that we get the rollout for these early drugs right. Ontario stands to save nearly $10 billion in avoided hospital and long-term care costs from a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, but only if a possible future treatment gets to those who need it most in a timely manner. That means earlier detection of Alzheimer’s disease, quicker diagnoses, more scan capacity, better use of specialist providers’ limited time, and equitable access to care and treatment options across the province.

Addressing the urgency to act now

It takes up to 18 months to get a diagnosis of dementia in Ontario today. That simply isn’t good enough. With the arrival of a disease-modifying treatment and no accompanying increases to our current capacity, that wait time will skyrocket to seven and a half years — longer than many who seek a diagnosis will live.

It takes up to 18 months to get a diagnosis of dementia in Ontario today. That simply isn’t good enough.

We have potentially a very short runway to get ready for our first-ever approved treatment. We could be as little as two years away — within the mandate of Ontario’s current government. Even if, for whatever reason, treatments available in the U.S. aren’t approved in Canada, preparing for their arrival will leave us better off with more fulsome diagnostic capacity. The Alzheimer Society of Ontario is urging the provincial government to act now to address systemic barriers to early, timely, and accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Ontarians are watching. We have no time to lose. 

Visit alzheimerontario.org to find resources and supports available near you.

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