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Evidence suggests that 1 in 3, or more than 10 million Canadians are living with a brain condition today (5.5 million with a neurological condition; 4.9 million with a mental health challenge – extrapolated from data presented by The Society for Neuroscience, USA).
In their 2006 publication Neurological disorders: public health challenges, the World Health Organization concluded that “a large body of evidence shows that policymakers and health-care providers may be unprepared to cope with the predicted rise in the prevalence of neurological and other chronic disorders and the disability resulting from the extensions of life expectancy and aging populations globally.”
To address this issue, and the present-day needs of the over 10 million Canadians living with a brain condition, a group of neurological health charities came together in 2008 to collaborate as Neurological Health Charities Canada (NHCC). The coalition is actively engaged in driving policy at all levels of government. Membership continues to grow.
To date, the NHCC has successfully advocated for a national population study of neurological conditions across Canada, and the beginnings of a provincial brain strategy in Ontario. The NHCC is currently working to engage the Government of Canada in the development of a national brain strategy.
The brain is a complex organ, made up of 100 billion neurons (brain cells) – and it is the least understood. Ninety per cent of what we have learned about the brain as been in the past fifteen years, but researchers still have far to go toward fully understanding brain function.
What we do know is that there are more than 1,000 diseases, disorders and injuries affecting the brain, spinal cord and nervous system (brain conditions). Most are progressive and degenerative, with no known cause or cure. And, while therapies exist for some conditions, in most cases, there is no way to stop or even slow the progression.
NeuroScience Canada reports that one in three Canadians will be affected by one or more of these brain conditions at some point in their lives. Brain conditions are not a normal part of aging; however we do see an increased incidence associated with aging. As the Canadian population ages, the impact of brain conditions will be staggering.
Brain conditions do not discriminate. They strike men and women, young and old. The resulting burden manifests not only the health of our citizens, but also our communities and social systems, and our economy. The enormous burden of these conditions has been seriously underestimated by traditional epidemiological and health statistical methods.
Within the next 20 years, brain disorders will become the leading cause of death and disability in Canada. Policymakers and health care professionals are not prepared to cope with this predicted rise in brain disorders. Recently, the Government of Canada invested in the issue of mental health however to adequately plan for the full impact of brain disorders, policymakers must also acknowledge and invest in the full spectrum of neurological and psychiatric conditions.