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Community profiles in New Brunswick of risk factors for dementia

Category(s): Health
Status: Active
Principal: Sandra Magalhaes
Project Number: P0052
Year Approved: 2020

Project Description

Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia (ADRD) has significant health, societal and financial impacts for New Brunswick (NB) and Canada. While some risk factors for ADRD are not modifiable (e.g., age, genetics), one-third of cases could be prevented or postponed by reducing modifiable risk factors, including physical and cognitive inactivity, diet and other chronic disease risk factors (e.g., hypertension, diabetes, depression, etc.). 

In 2011 there were 750,000 Canadians living with dementia, with a total economic burden of $33 billion per year. These numbers are expected to increase to 1.4 million Canadians living with ADRD by 2031, with a total economic cost of $290 billion per year by 2040. Looking specifically at New Brunswick (NB), depending on the study, the incidence of ADRD in NB ranges between 210 per 10,000, 134 per 10,000 and <50 per 10,000. At least one study suggests that dementia cases in NB will double by 2031, with costs increasing five-fold. Economic models suggest that by delaying onset of dementia by one year in at-risk seniors, the Province of New Brunswick could save at least $300M in health care costs over the next two decades (extrapolating from). 

Although helpful for gauging the range of the issue across NB, these studies were further limited by only focusing on either counties, health regions or the province as a whole. NB has one of the highest rates of chronic disease related to these risk factors in Canada, although it is currently unknown how disease risk factors translate into ADRD risk in NB. Given than NB has among the highest rates in Canada of chronic disease and the highest proportion of seniors over 65, it is imperative that we learn how to effectively mitigate these risks, especially in our most vulnerable communities. The aging demographic and out-migration of younger adults (often the informal caregivers) in some regions of NB means that the mounting costs and care burden could reach crisis levels. Initiatives to prevent dementia will translate into reduced hospitalizations, promote aging-in-place and improve quality of life outcomes of seniors. 

With no known treatments to reverse ADRD, research is now focusing on developing programs that prevent or postpone its onset. One possible approach is identifying groups of people (‘communities’) at risk of ADRD using risk indicators, and then targeting with a ‘Brain Health Program’, which supports individual changes to diet, exercise and brain-training games. Using data available at NB-IRDT and through Statistics Canada Research Data Centre (RDC) at UNB, we will create dementia risk factor maps for NB, specifically modifiable risk factors, which will allow focused programing efforts in communities with the greatest need in the coming years. The use of both administrative (NB-IRDT) and survey (RDC) data, which are available in the other Canadian provinces, facilitates the use of brain health mapping methods nationally.