Research shows not enough New Zealanders understand dementia

Dementia is a growing health challenge. By 2050 there'll be enough New Zealanders with the condition to fill Wellington Stadium five times.

But despite how common it is, new research shows Kiwis still don't know much about it.

After eight years, Donal Miller's wife Trish is now in full-time care, in the final stages of dementia.

"It's a slow process, it's been a long journey and it was hard for me to understand what was going wrong," he says.

He has fond memories to look back on, but says it's tough.

"I can't share anything with her," he says. "And this is the worst thing, I sit and I think if she had a different terminal situation we could be sharing and emotional and be together, but I can't do that, it doesn't happen."

Donal is not alone.

Currently, 70,000 New Zealanders have dementia. That's enough to fill Wellington stadium twice over.

But by 2050 the number of New Zealanders with dementia will be able to fill it five times - an estimated 170,000 people.

"Four out of five New Zealanders have a connection to dementia in some way," says Dementia New Zealand spokesperson Lisa Burns.

And yet, there's a huge gap in our knowledge:

  • Two-thirds of Kiwis think there is no available treatment for dementia
  • 45 percent of those over 65 said they wouldn't know how to recognise the signs
  • Almost half said they don't know how to engage with someone with dementia

Burns wants to dispel the myths.

"Although there is no cure for dementia that doesn't mean there's no treatment and there are so many treatment options that are available through support services," she says.

Donal wishes he'd had a better understanding of the condition earlier so he could have dealt with it better.

"I think if it's talked about, it's been seen more in the community, that would be a great help," she says.

He says learn the symptoms, don't be ashamed and reach out for support.

10 common signs of early dementia:

  1. Subtle short-term memory changes
  2. Difficulty with language or communication
  3. Changes in personality
  4. Changes in mood
  5. Changes in behaviour
  6. Apathy
  7. Difficulty with executive functioning
  8. Difficulty completing normal tasks
  9. Changes in coordination and spatial awareness
  10. Struggling to adapt to change