challenge of dementia
CREDIT: ID 42978050 © Alexander Raths |

Dr Yves Joanette, Scientific Director at the CIHR Institute of Aging argues for a balanced approach when it comes to their collaboration-based approach to face the challenge of dementia

Thanks to advances in health care and public health programmes throughout the life trajectory, the world’s population are getting older as both the number of older individuals and life expectancy itself are increasing.

Canada follows this trend, as it will reach in some decades the club of super-aged countries, led by Japan, where more than 30% of the population is age 60 or more.

One of the most impacting health challenges in older age – and the incidence increases dramatically as one gets older – is dementia. This condition is the expression of numerous neurodegenerative diseases that are typical of ageing, with the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia is characterised by a slow and progressive impairment of memory and other cognitive functions, as well as changes in personality and mood. While the disease process is extremely complex and intermingled, it is known that some of the underlying mechanisms causing dementia began over 25 years before the first clinical signs appear.

More than 400,000 Canadians age 65 or older are among the 50 million people estimated to be living with dementia worldwide. The number affected by dementia are at least double when the impact on caregivers is considered.

The challenge is particularly acute for women. Two-thirds of people living with dementia are women. Women are often the primary caregiver for family members with dementia. In addition, some women must cope with caring for a parent or partner and caring for children at the same time.

Because of the complexity of the challenge and because answers are needed both for those living with dementia and for those who would not want to live with dementia in their future, CIHR has adopted a balanced approach under its Dementia Research Strategy (DRS). The Strategy takes advantages of Canada’s existing strengths in the neurosciences, clinical research and the social sciences, while establishing a platform for coordinating research activities and facilitating international collaboration.

The Canadian Consortium on Neurodegeneration in Aging (CCNA) is the flagship initiative of the DRS in Canada. The CCNA supports the collaboration of leading researchers from universities and research centres across the country. It is funded through a partnership between CIHR and a group of charities, industry partners, provincial research funding agencies and philanthropic organisations.

The CCNA addresses the challenge of dementia in a balanced way by focusing on preventing, treatment and quality of life issues.

Since it was launched in 2014, the CCNA has made significant progress. They have assembled teams to focus work on the themes and specific topics. They established the infrastructure to standardise and share data and results. Their work has so far resulted in 100 health oriented peer-reviewed publications. Most importantly, they have established new inter-disciplinary and inter-sectorial research collaboration which takes advantage of the Canadian strengths across universities and provinces.

To tackle the complexity of the diseases causing dementia, CCNA has created a unique clinical research platform involving more than 1,600 Canadians with dementia, mild cognitive impairment and self-report memory problems. The data collected from participants will help identify the mechanisms underlying the development and progression of dementia.

Notably, the CCNA is the only national dementia research platform in the world that includes a cross-cutting sex and gender component, allowing for comparisons of women and men and male and female animal models. This focus will help researchers better understand the sex and gender differences in dementia.

The CCNA is also the main Canadian hub for international collaborative efforts as the global challenge of dementia requires a global answer.

Most recently, the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences asked the CCNA to draft a consensus statement on dementia. The draft statement was the basis for a global statement released by the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), which includes a World-Academy supported call to action that aims to develop an evidence-based and public health-oriented approach to tackling the challenge of dementia. The IAP joins other global bodies, including the World Health Organization and the World Dementia Council, which are urging coordinated global action on dementia.

Under the DRS, CIHR is contributing to the global efforts and supporting the participation of Canadian researchers in international research programmes. For example, Canada was the first non-European Union member of the Joint Programme for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, the largest international collaborative initiative in the area of dementia.

CIHR is also supporting the participation of Canadian researchers in established collaborative research programmes, such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative.

Dementia is one of the world’s most pressing health challenges. Canada has heard the call. Together with its partners, CIHR is working hard to respond to this challenge and improve the health and wellness of people living with dementia and their families, for today and for tomorrow.


Dr Yves Joanette

Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Aging

Past-Chair and Member, World Dementia Council

Tel: +1 613 954 1968


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