Explainer: What is dementia and how much does it cost our aging population?

Dementia is a loss of cognitive functioning due to physical changes in the brain.  

It's a global problem. According to the World Health Organization, dementia is the seventh leading cause of death globally, behind conditions like heart disease and stroke.  

One of the best-known cases is retired blockbuster star Bruce Willis, who was diagnosed with Frontotemporal Dementia or FTD this past year. He's lost the ability to act and now even speak.  

Dementia symptoms can span from forgetfulness, indecision, and moodiness in the early stages to difficulty communicating, getting lost in familiar places, and inability to recognise friends and whānau later on.  

For some, these changes can happen in a period of a few months or slowly over many years.  

People with it end up like a different person and eventually, dementia can kill you. About one in every 10 Kiwis over 65 is expected to get dementia.  

And about 70,000 people in this country are living with dementia right now.  That is a city's worth of people, more than the population of Napier.   

But if you add all the affected family members as well, this dementia city would be bigger than Wellington.   

Our population is aging. While the over-65 crowd makes up 15 percent of the population now, by 2050 this number is expected to balloon to 25 percent.  

Dementia cases will continue to snowball. Over 167,000 Kiwis are projected to have dementia by 2050.  That's more than the population of Tauranga.  

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But we're already struggling. It's estimated there are about 30,000 people with dementia who need care are missing out due to workforce shortages in the aged care sector. 

And because women live longer, they are 30 percent more likely to get dementia than men. Māori and Pasifika are also more likely to get dementia and are diagnosed later in life.  

Dementia care is also incredibly expensive. If you decide to stay at home and be looked after by a private carer, it can cost $50 an hour. With each visit being at least three hours – and often twice a day, you're looking at $300 a day. 

Paying for residential care is also costly and confusing.   

If you opt to go and live in a rest home, it could cost you up to $200 a day if your assets are worth more than $149,845 – totalling $73,000 a year.  

That's just the financial cost but dementia obviously comes with huge emotional costs too – like seeing a loved one completely change before your eyes.  

Patrick Gower is the host of Paddy Gower Has Issues on Three and ThreeNow.