The Dementia Action Plan 2020 to 2025, released in May, has as one of its four objectives “building accepting and understanding communities” to improve the wellbeing of people living with the disease.
“Stigma and a lack of awareness, poor understanding and barriers to inclusion are among the most devastating things that people living with dementia and their support people experience,” it says.
The plan’s other objectives are to reduce the incidence of dementia, ensure a timely, accurate diagnosis and strengthen leadership and capability across the “complex and fragmented” sector. There’s not a lot most of us can do to help there, other than paying our taxes to support the health system and donating to dementia research and advocacy groups. But all of us can help build that better community. In fact only we, the team of 5 million, can.
So when we encounter someone in the community displaying symptoms of the disease, what are some appropriate ways to respond? A good place to start is with Alzheimers NZ’s Understanding and respecting customers with a dementia: A guide for staff. It’s directed mainly at retail and hospitality staff but the advice goes for all of us – kindness, common sense, avoiding stress, good communication skills and a smile “go a very long way”. If you notice someone who appears confused, searching for something they can’t find or looking like they don’t know what to do next, approach them in a friendly, open manner, and ask, “Can I help?”
It really is that simple, says Alzheimers NZ, and for many people with dementia this will be all they need to explain exactly how you can help. Others may need more assistance and the guide contains excellent advice for helping in these circumstances as well.
The Dementia Action Plan 2020 to 2025 has been developed by representatives of NZ Dementia Cooperative, Alzheimers New Zealand and Dementia New Zealand, clinicians, academics and providers, working alongside the Ministry of Health. Its vision is a health system in which dementia is prevented as much as possible, and where those living with the disease, their whānau and care partners are supported to “live their best lives, with autonomy, meaning and dignity”.
You can download a copy of the Dementia Action Plan 2020 to 2025 here.