Innovative support for family carers, not building more nursing homes, will be key to tackling the rising costs of looking after dementia sufferers, an expert in the field says.
Professor Henry Brodaty, described as the father of Alzheimer's and dementia research in Australia for his 35 years in the field, has just been given the $250,000 Ryman Prize -- awarded for work that improves the lives of the elderly -- in Wellington.
While in New Zealand, he told NZ Newswire that research into new approaches to support for people caring for family members with dementia would be a significant part of dealing with the condition in the future.
New Zealand currently has an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 people with dementia, but world trends suggest that figure might triple by 2050 as the population ages.
Prof Brodaty said despite billions of dollars being spent researching treatments, there hadn't been breakthroughs and budget issues would become "challenging" in decades to come.
"We can't just keep building more and more nursing houses. We need to find better ways to support people at home, to support the families and to stave off the symptoms with lifestyle changes," he said.
His own work had found training and support for carers ultimately saved costs, increased their quality of life and kept people out of nursing homes and in communities longer, he said.
Prof Brodaty -- who runs his own clinic, and has been a world-leading researcher and rights advocate-- said looking at prevention would be his next research focus.
"We know about a third of the cause of Alzheimer's disease is environmental. If we can attack the environmental factors we can delay the onset, because dementia largely affects people in late life, by delaying the onset by just two or five years we'll reduce the numbers of people affected by 20 or 50 percent."
The psychogeriatrician said it was also important that people knew the condition wasn't "the end" and people could have a positive quality of life for years after diagnosis.
"It's another phase of their life. Sure it's a debilitating disease, but that's over many years."