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Action on dementia – more than a policy debate Post Cover Image

Alongside colleagues from the dementia sector, I spoke about the importance of the Dementia Action Plan and why it is needed urgently.

My presentation followed that of Alister Robertson, who has dementia, and who spoke passionately about his journey and what he needs to live well with dementia.

Inspired by that, I reminded the audience that when we talk about ‘what to do about dementia’, we’re really talking about ‘what to do about real people’. This is much more than a ‘policy debate’.

We’re talking about people whom members of the audience may know, or may have known. We’re talking about friends and family members, and we could very well be talking about one of us because some of us will develop dementia as we age.

Once framed as a debate about very vulnerable people, rather than just policy, taking urgent action on dementia becomes a no-brainer!

Which, of course, is where the Dementia Action Plan comes in. It includes a useful summary of all the reasons why we have to act:

The rapidly increasing numbers of people with dementia
The increasing cost of dementia to NZ
The big gaps in services across the country
The impact dementia has on our secondary and tertiary health services
The generally underpaid and educated workforce.
But the number one reason is ‘people’.

Living with dementia in NZ is tough. It’s a one-way journey that takes a lot of mental stamina to handle positively.

Adding to the challenge is the fact that local Alzheimers and Dementia organisations can currently only support around 20% of the estimated dementia population.

Sure, 30% are in residential care, but that leaves a 50% balance – currently around 35,000 people and their families at home, in their communities. What happens to them?

Here’s where the frustration – and sometimes I admit, the anger – creeps in, I said.

The facts about dementia in this country are clear – there’s little or no debate about them. But there’s also no action!

Hopefully, I told my rapt audience, things are about to change. We have just had a positive meeting with the Associate Health Minister to discuss the Dementia Action Plan and were encouraged by the fact she reiterated Labour’s manifesto commitment to work with us on the Plan. Her confirmation of this pre-election promise was very heartening.

The World Health Organization will shortly report against the Global Action Plan on dementia and we hope the Associate Minister will note that New Zealand’s report card will likely say ‘could do much better’.

And that will be followed by the release of our soon-to-updated Dementia Economic Impact Report. That, too, will further underscore to the Minister the need for urgent action.

So, with an election promise to keep, the need for which will be reinforced by those two very credible reports, we are hopeful the tide is starting to turn.

Yes, Covid is a health priority, rolling out the vaccines is a priority, implementing the recommendations in the Simpson report is a priority.

But hot on the heels of those issues is the urgent need to address the dementia challenge facing NZ. To look after our people.

The Dementia Action Plan is our contribution to that process! We are optimistic that 2021 might be the year of action!

Catherine Hall thumbnail image

Catherine Hall

Chief Executive, Alzheimers NZ