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Dispelling the dementia myths

By 2050 the number of New Zealanders with dementia will be able to fill Wellington Stadium five times. It’s a statistic that makes dementia one of New Zealand’s most pressing health challenges. While the impact of dementia on our society as a whole may be well known, many Kiwis don’t understand what the condition means at an individual level.

According to research commissioned by Public Trust and Dementia New Zealand, 67% of New Zealanders think there is no available treatment for dementia, while 42% believe that people with the condition need to be housed in secure units. Paul Sullivan, CEO of Dementia New Zealand, says people tend to connect cure with treatment.  “They think because there is no ‘cure’ for conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease, it means that nothing can be done to improve people’s lives,” he says. “That is simply not the case.  There are a number of interventions – medical, social and lifestyle – proven to ease the challenges people living with dementia face.

“There is also a view that people with dementia are mostly in care.  But the fact is that most people spend the majority of their journey with this condition living independently in the community – going to the supermarket, using public transport and attending community events,” says Paul.

From the research, 45% of those over 65 said they wouldn’t know how to recognise the signs of dementia, while 49% of the same age group said they don’t know what to do when engaging with someone with dementia. “There is also a lot of confusion in the New Zealand public surrounding the term ‘dementia’”, say Paul. “We often get asked ‘What is the difference between Alzheimers and dementia?’  The answer is simple: Alzheimer’s Disease is a type of dementia, whereas dementia is an umbrella term, and is used to cover the dozens of different manifestations of this condition.”

The research revealed 41% of New Zealanders believe it’s not possible to have good quality of life whilst living with dementia. Public Trust CEO Glenys Talivai says that is a myth that needs to go. “With the right preparation and support, people living with dementia can still lead meaningful lives. Services exist that can take care of the everyday life pressures that someone with dementia may be struggling with.

“With the over 65s expected to make up 22% of New Zealand’s population by 2051, we hope more services will be available to cater to the specific needs of this group, including those with dementia,” she says.

More information and advice on living with dementia can be found at www.dementia.nz

 The nationally representative survey was commissioned by Public Trust and Dementia New Zealand and undertaken by Dynata. The survey involved 277 people between the ages of 18 to 85 from the Dynata research panel. Participants were selected to represent a cross-section of adult New Zealanders by age, gender and region.

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