Imagine a health condition that’s one of the worst and most costly after Covid-19, but with no cure and no treatment. Now, imagine that at least 50 percent of the people who live with the condition don’t even get a diagnosis. And imagine that this health condition affects most of us in some way at some point in our lives.
A little frightening, isn’t it? And it gets a lot more concerning when you realise that the health condition is real. It’s called dementia. The number of New Zealanders to be affected by it are expected to nearly triple in coming years - and, very worryingly, there’s no government plan to deal with it.
The Lancet has called dementia “the greatest global challenge for health and social care in the 21st century”. The World Health Organization takes it so seriously that it developed its international plan.
So, in the absence of any New Zealand Government response, the dementia sector developed the Dementia Action Plan. It sets out a blueprint for government to respond to the looming dementia challenge facing this country as our population ages at an unprecedented rate.
The five-year plan has four objectives; reduce the incidence of dementia; support people with the condition and their families and care partners to live their best possible lives. Build an accepting and understanding community; and strengthen the leadership and capability across the wider dementia sector.
Of those four, dealing with the first two – risk reduction and, particularly, better support for people affected by dementia – are urgent priorities. These will make a tangible and immediate difference to the size and impact of the dementia challenge.
A key component of achieving that second objective is that the health system delivers equitable, tailored, and quality assured support services to include:
- At least 12 months’ post-diagnosis support, equipping people to live well through services provided by the local dementia-specific NGO.
- Dementia navigation services for all people affected by dementia in their districts.
- Flexible, available and accessible respite services so care partners can take a break.
The government has indicated it supports the Dementia Action Plan. Now New Zealand’s dementia community is waiting with bated breath for the plan to be rolled out.
Alzheimers NZ’s chief executive Catherine Hall says it can’t come quickly enough.
“The support services for people living with dementia in New Zealand are woefully inadequate. There are gaps in services. There are not enough of them, they are of variable quality, and there’s been no extra funding for dementia support services for over ten years.
“It’s a terrible situation when you consider that New Zealanders living with dementia are among our most vulnerable citizens.”
Catherine hopes to highlight the plight of our dementia community during World Alzheimers Month, which occurs every September.
Alzheimers NZ is planning a pubic facing campaign to promote widespread awareness and support for the Dementia Action Plan. The campaign will position the Action Plan as needed urgently and make its implementation by the government something that all New Zealanders will actively support.
As well as backing this campaign, Catherine is urging all New Zealanders to get behind Alzheimers NZ’s online Move for Dementia challenge.
"It’s a fun way to show your support and compassion for people living with a daunting condition that takes them on a challenging journey.
“And the more we can all show empathy and consideration for those living with dementia, the faster we will create a more dementia-friendly Aotearoa New Zealand.
“Something our rapidly growing dementia community desperately needs,” said Catherine.