Patrick Gower: New Zealand desperately needs to change the way it treats dementia

OPINION: Dementia is a cruel disease. It destroys families and it kills. It's brutal. And the way we treat people with it and the people caring for them is all wrong. 

Dementia is already severely testing the health system in this country. 

Our ability to care for people is at a breaking point and so are their families.  

It's estimated there are about 30,000 people with dementia who need care and are missing out due to workforce shortages. 

And as our population ages, it's going to get worse. Much worse. Currently, there are about 70,000 people living with dementia 

But, by 2050, that number will more than double to about 167,000. 

One expert told Paddy Gower Has Issues New Zealand is "woefully unprepared". 

We are facing a tsunami of dementia. 

When I put a social post up about dementia last month, I was flooded with emails and messages from families all across the country. 

People spoke of heartbreak at losing a loved one, who was still here but not here. 

They talked about their worries and their fears, the delays in diagnosis and the stigma, the stress and struggle of finding and affording the right care and the constant guilt the care isn't right enough. 

So many of them were desperate for more funding and support so they could keep and care for their loved ones at home for longer. 

And then someone said, "You should go meet the Kingi family in Thames." So, I did. 

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James Kingi, 30, has been caring for his koro Jim at home, surrounded by three generations of his whānau. It's the ultimate wrap-around support. 

Jim has had dementia for six years and, just last week, he died. 

I only met him briefly but the impact he's had on me is huge. I've never felt so much love and grief and laughter in one room at the same time as when I met him and his whānau. I learned a lot from the Kingi family - and New Zealand can too. 

Patrick Gower meets James and Jim Kingi.
Patrick Gower meets James and Jim Kingi. Photo credit: Paddy Gower Has Issues.

When I asked James if he had any experience as a nurse or carer, he told me he had loving skills. 

"All my care and everything, it comes from here," he said, pointing to his heart. "It doesn't need to come from a book, you can't teach me how to love my koro from a book. 

"If a person is sick like this, the best care for them is you. It's the ones that they love," James said. 

There is some support for people who care for their loved ones but, as James told me, it's hard to access and isn't that much. Which makes no sense to me. 

We should be making it easier and more - much more. 

There are a lot of things that could be done to ease the pain and burden of dementia. But there's one obvious solution that stands out - allowing families the means to keep their loved ones at home for as long as possible. 

I saw that with the Kingi whānau. It's easier on everyone; on the person, on the family and on the health system. 

Let's make it easier for people to respect their loved ones, and care from the heart. 

E te rangatira, moe mai rā.  

Ngā mihi aroha ki te whānau o Jim Kingi. 

Patrick Gower hosts Paddy Gower Has Issues - watch it on Three or ThreeNow.