Through my work as manager of Wesley Community Action’s Elder Care Team I’ve become increasingly aware of the need to do more to meet the needs of our ageing population. At present about 70,000 Kiwis live with dementia. That number is expected to increase to 170,000 by 2050. Most people with dementia – about 70% – live in the community.
It’s not a theoretical thing that will happen sometime in the future – it’s happening right now, and as a nation we’re ill-equipped to deal with it. My team works with vulnerable older people living alone in the community, or who are being subjected to elder harm. Many are also living with dementia and engaging with banks and post offices and utility companies, often with little support.
Being dementia friendly is particularly relevant for Wesley Community Action as a whole because dementia disproportionately affects many of the communities we work with – vulnerable people of all ages living in poverty. People living with dementia in these communities can become isolated, and are less likely to get access to appropriate support services and resources.
As an organisation we’re committed to helping grow resilient communities and in order to grow resilient communities I believe strongly that we have to start taking dementia into consideration.
The accreditation process was also a chance to draw attention to the fact that dementia affects everybody, including staff, many of whom have whānau members living with dementia. They may also one day develop dementia themselves. For me, being dementia friendly is as much about how we look after our staff and behave as an employer as it is about meeting the needs of the people we work with.
Alzheimers New Zealand made the accreditation process really easy. We started it in late 2019, with the full support of our board. No-one knew then that an international pandemic would hold the process up for several months! But with support from Alzheimers New Zealand we were able to get back on track once the country came out of lockdown. The final part of the process – physical audits of three of our sites and meetings with WCA staff and people who use our services (including people living with dementia) – took place in September.
I found the whole thing a really valuable experience that made me feel proud of the organisation I work for. The feedback we got from the audit team was that we already practice the values needed to be dementia-friendly – respect, inclusivity, kindness and compassion. It’s fantastic to have that recognised through our Dementia Friendly Award.