Family encourages others to seek help after devastating dementia diagnosis

An Auckland family living with dementia is encouraging people to have the conversation and get help early.

Former music teacher Amrita Francis was diagnosed when she was 57, but when she sits at her piano, you'd never know.

With effortless precision, her fingers glide across the keys as she remembers every note with perfect pitch and timing.

But four years ago, her life changed when she was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.

"It was a shock and I just couldn't think it through at all," Amrita says.

Husband Martin had concerns for some years. Amrita was fine physically, but she started to get confused. At first they first put it down to menopause and her high-pressure job in a top school.

"As time went on I knew there was more than just that," Martin says. "I noticed there were a few other things besides her forgetting things."

Eventually, they got the diagnosis they never wanted. Cognitive tests showed she had Alzheimer's. It was devastating, but they pulled together as a family.

"I have the most beautiful people here and so that gave me the feeling of thinking 'okay, we can do it'," Amrita says.

She is one of almost 70,000 Kiwis living with dementia, which is predicted to reach 210,000 by 2050.

Dementia statistics:


  • More than 70,000 people are estimated to be living with dementia in New Zealand; 20,000 of those are living in Auckland
  • Four out of five Kiwis are affected by dementia in some way
  • The national figure is anticipated to triple by 2050, costing $4.5 billion
  • Dementia is one of the leading causes of death in older adults in the country
  • Five percent of people diagnosed with dementia are under 65 years old
  • World Alzheimer's Day is on September 21


But how do you broach the topic if you have concerns about a loved one?


Dementia New Zealand spokesperson Lisa Burns has a few tips.

"In a lot of cases the person who has the signs and symptoms has already recognised something in themselves, and they'll be feeling a little bit scared and worried about that and they won't know how to talk about it either," she says.

  • Pick someone to talk to that person who they trust.
  • Pick a time of day that's comfortable.
  • Make sure that it's not a situation where there are other distractions.
  • Allow them to have a quiet conversation.
  • Start by asking if they have any concerns themselves, so, 'have you noticed anything in yourself that you might be worried about that you want to talk about'
  • Just be supportive and empathetic and offer support to go and see the GP

Martin says don't delay in getting help.

"The sooner you get diagnosed the sooner things can be done. There's no magic bullet but there's a lot that can help you have a better life."

It's meant a lot of changes. Their son Sanesh now does Amrita's make-up and he and Martin both help dress her, and they try to stay social and keep life as normal as possible.

They say that despite her diagnosis, she's still Amrita and when she plays her piano her dementia disappears.

This September is Alzheimer's Awareness Month, and Dementia New Zealand has launched its Still Me campaign in support of people like Amrita, and their families.

"Our Still Me campaign has been designed to help change the way we think, feel and talk about dementia," says Paul Sullivan, CEO of Dementia New Zealand. "It is a reminder that we need to see the person not the condition and to recognise the brave person who is supporting them."

People are encouraged to show their support by making a donation, holding Still Me Get Together events to help raise awareness and funds, or by changing out their Facebook profile picture with the Still Me magnolia frame. 

If you are concerned about yourself or somebody you know, speak to your GP or call Dementia NZ on 0800 433 636.