Matt Dineen, a teacher at an Ottawa Catholic high school, is calling on Canada’s bishops to help advance a national dementia strategy. Twitter

Bishops urged to support national dementia strategy

  • October 1, 2014

OTTAWA - An Ottawa Catholic husband and father whose wife suffers a rare, early onset form of dementia is calling on Canada’s bishops to help advance a national dementia strategy. 

Matt Dineen, a teacher at an Ottawa Catholic high school, said he approached the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops to ask the bishops to support private member’s Bill C-356 now before the House of Commons. Introduced by NDP member Claude Gravelle, the bill calls for the development of a national dementia plan to fund research and provide support for some 750,000 Canadians currently diagnosed with dementia and related diseases. 

Since Dineen’s wife was institutionalized with dementia 2 1/2 years ago he says he has “become a widower with a living spouse.” 

In addition to Canada’s bishops, he said he wants to engage ordinary Catholics because dementia is a growing problem as Canada’s population ages. The Alzheimer Society of Canada projects that by 2031 1.4 million Canadians will be suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Without a proactive approach towards dementia, Dineen argues, support could grow for euthanasia. 

CCCB president Archbishop Paul-André Durocher said information has gone out to bishops on this issue and each bishop is encouraged to respond individually, just as they were invited to respond to a private member’s bill calling for a national palliative care strategy. 

Dineen’s wife Lisa was diagnosed in January 2013 with frontotemporal dementia at the age of 43. 

He spoke recently at a G7 Dementia Summit in Ottawa at the invitation of Canada’s health minister Rona Ambrose. Dineen described how his happy marriage to the mother of his three children began to “unravel” when his wife began showing “behavioural and personality changes.” 

“Failed marriage counselling, a haunting and chilling evening spent in a psychiatric ward, endless tests, much uncertainty, and a glimmer of hope, all characterized the time between August and December 2012,” he said. “I cannot begin to tell you how horrendous the situation was, especially the stress this created, which necessarily resulted in the breakdown of our relationship.” 

A few months after the diagnosis, Lisa, a highly-educated woman, was placed in a secure long-term care facility. 

“Since that day, March 25, 2013, I have been without a spouse and the children have been without a mother. In truth, I have become a widower with a living spouse.” 

Dineen said that in addition to research to discover a cure and treatment for those with dementia, efforts must be made to help caregivers and “discover what services are lacking.” Dementia is not only a disease affecting the elderly, he said. 

“Research is critical, but with it we need a real plan to deliver funding, help for caregivers, early diagnosis and intervention, training for the workforces, and a continuum of primary, home and community care,” he said. 

Dineen urged a coordinated approach to the development of treatment for dementia, including shorter and more targeted clinical trials for new drugs. 

“Those who work on clinical trials must remember the impact of the disease on all family members, not just the patient,” he said. 

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