In March 2021, Linda and Mason from the Eldernet team became Dementia Friends. Alzheimers New Zealand Dementia Friendly Coordinator, Kate MacIntyre, discusses what it means to be a Dementia Friend and why it can make the world of difference to someone living with dementia.
Dementia affects almost all of us. Nearly four out of five Kiwi families have to support or know someone who develops dementia.
This is a big and growing problem. The number of us with dementia is expected to triple by 2050. And there is no treatment or cure! That’s why building a more dementia friendly society is so important.
What makes life even harder is that people with dementia often get treated differently, even by close friends and family.
“[Partner’s name] will go outside and they’ll [neighbours] all talk for half an hour. I’ll go outside and they say ‘hello’” (Person living with dementia)
Around 70% of Kiwis with dementia live at home in their communities for most of their time with the condition, but they often experience stigma, feel marginalised, unwanted and kept at a distance.
Living with dementia is tough. It takes a lot of mental stamina to handle positively.
“The one thing that I would really emphasise is that whilst the diagnosis is traumatic, and it is very traumatic… We believe quite generally, you can go on and live a meaningful life with some changes.” (care partner)
Support and kindness along the way can mean so very much!
“I think kindness is a language everyone speaks, whether they have dementia or not.” (Dementia Friend)
You can offer some of that kindness by becoming a Dementia Friend. Even the smallest actions are a very powerful way to help people living with dementia. Checking in on people in your community who may be vulnerable, live alone, are older or live alone is a great way to start. See if they need any help with groceries or supplies (always stay at a safe distance), reach out for a chat or a cuppa, or join (or create) social and neighbourhood networks. Basically, being kind and thinking about how you communicate with people are actions that help make our country a kinder, more supportive, inclusive and understanding place for people with dementia.
Anyone can become a Dementia Friend at: https://www.alzheimers.org.nz/get-involved/become-a-dementia-friend. It’s free and only takes 20 minutes.
“If I saw someone wearing a Dementia Friends badge or wristband, I would feel more comfortable to approach them.” (Person living with dementia)
Your business or organisation can also work to gain formal dementia friendly status through our Dementia Friendly Recognition Programme. Find out more at: https://www.alzheimers.org.nz/get-involved/a-dementia-friendly-nz/dementia-friendly-recognition-programme
If you have more time, you might spend a couple of hours a week helping someone you know with dementia or volunteering for your local Alzheimers or dementia organisation. And if you want to “go big” check out how to start making your community dementia friendly at: https://www.alzheimers.org.nz/dementia-friendly-nz/dementia-friendly-communities
By helping to make New Zealand a more dementia friendly society you will be making a real difference to those around you.
*Quotes in this article are from people with dementia, care partners or Dementia Friends.