New Zealand health services unable to keep up with demand of increasing dementia patients

The number of people in New Zealand living with dementia is growing but the services to care for those people aren't.  

The sector estimates that around 30,000 people are already missing out on essential help. 

Dunedin resident Bob Garrick was diagnosed with dementia seven years ago.

"I realise that at some point, I'll be in a two-room retirement thing, but I hope it doesn't happen for quite some time," Garrick said.

Until then, his wife Adrienne Henderson is his primary care, except for one respite day each week, funded by the Ministry of Health. 

"It's hard to find someone who's prepared to do that and who's prepared to take a mere pittance of money, so it's really a volunteer person," Henderson said.

According to the University of Auckland's Dementia Economic Impact Report, friends or family of people living with dementia provide nearly 53 million hours of unpaid care per year, valued at $1.19 billion.

That's because almost two-thirds of those with dementia live at home for most of their time with the disease. 

Alzheimer's NZ CEO Catherine Hall said: "We have been concerned for a long time that the system, it's just not able to deliver and support people who are living with dementia today."

Hall added the problem should've been dealt with a decade ago.

"It's a really difficult problem for [the] New Zealand health service that the work wasn't done ten years ago to get ready for now."

In New Zealand, there are around 70,000 people who currently have dementia but the number is expected to get up to 170,000 people by 2050 - which would cost nearly $6 billion per year. 

In October, the dementia care unit in Dunedin's Ross Home was forced to close due to staff shortages. 

This puts pressure on families who are left to care for them instead.

Napier resident Alister Robertson was diagnosed with early-onset dementia eight years ago. 

"As far as getting access to financial assistance for people under 65, we sort of fall in no man's land. It seems to be getting harder and harder to access those services."

The Government allocated $12 million in funding for some dementia services in this year's budget to be spread across the next four years, but Alzheimer's New Zealand said it's not going to solve the problem.

"What are solutions? What way can we work through this to make it easy for both Bob and I and everyone else?" Henderson said.

Because dementia will exist whether or not help is available.