Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of conditions that trigger a gradual loss of brain function. Alzheimers is the most common and well-known form of dementia, but everyone’s experience is unique. Dementia is more likely to impact women than men with rates that are 30 per cent higher. While it’s not a normal part of ageing, common symptoms include changes in memory, thinking, behaviour, personality and emotions. These changes affect a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks and interfere with their everyday lives.
It is one of New Zealand’s biggest healthcare challenges and the cost is estimated to reach $4.6 billion in the next 30 years, creating major personal, societal and fiscal impacts. That’s why Alzheimers NZ launched an initiative in 2018 called ‘Dementia Friends’. It’s an online education programme designed to raise awareness, increase understanding, grow inclusion and acceptance of people with dementia, and reduce stigma and discrimination.
Anyone can become a Dementia Friend and Cubro is proud to be supporting all of its staff to complete the programme. In total, almost 11,000 Kiwis have now become Dementia Friends.
"We commend Cubro for taking this step to raise awareness among staff,” Kate says. “Often people think targeted education like this is only a way of supporting customers, but dementia can also be an issue personally for many staff. Four out of five of us know, or have known, someone with dementia in New Zealand."
“We want New Zealand to be an open and inclusive society — a place where people with dementia feel valued and safe, and where they can contribute to, and participate in their communities." The Dementia Friends programme only takes 20 minutes to complete online. Participants learn what it is like to live with dementia and are then encouraged to think about the actions (big or small) they can take to help people with dementia to live well.
Suggestions include how to clearly communicate by giving someone time to answer without pressuring them, keeping
questions and sentences concise, being respectful and kind, and focusing on the individual rather than dementia itself.
“And there’s bigger ways people can help too, like volunteering with their local Alzheimers or dementia organisations,donating, fundraising, campaigning etc. We try and show the full spread of ways people can get involved.”
Once you’ve become a Dementia Friend, you can choose to receive a special badge or wristband to let people with dementia in the community know you are someone they can approach for assistance, or to help start a conversation about dementia to raise greater awareness.
“One of the things that happens when people complete the programme is they hear from three Kiwis who have dementia. They’re kind of blown away because often the mental image they have of dementia is people living
in a secure care setting. In reality that’s not usually the case. For example, Helen, one of the three people profiled in the Dementia Friends programme, goes to the gym every day, Alister is a cyclist and has competed in the gruelling K2 race, and Rita spends as much time as she can with her whānau and mokopuna.
Over 70 per cent of people with dementia live in the community for most of their time with the condition. They shop, work, eat out, catch the bus, go to the library and do everything else we all enjoy doing. But most people don’t think about dementia that way. So, Dementia Friends is designed to raise awareness across the country, to engage individuals in the dementia friendly cause, and to make them see how it’s possible to help people living with dementia around them.”
Cubro’s Aged Care Key Account Manager, Jamie Abercrombie, says his fellow Aged Care Account Managers and the marketing team have now all become Dementia Friends, and the aim is for all Cubro employees to complete the course by the end of 2021.
“There are a number of reasons why we felt this was an important step. We want to raise confidence and understanding among our employees when entering Aged Care facilities, particularly dementia units. It’s important our
staff are friendly, accepting and supportive of people living with dementia. “We also want to demonstrate to our
customers that as Dementia Friends we are aware of, responsive to, and respectful of the diversity of their needs.”
Alzheimers NZ would love to see ‘the team of five million’ also sign up to be Dementia Friends so, together, we can
create a more supportive community environment and a Dementia Friendly Aotearoa New Zealand.
Find out more about the Dementia Friends programme at alzheimers.org.nz