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On the soap-box...Gaynor Duff
Each issue, INsite seeks opinion on a contentious issue concerning aged care and retirement.
Alzheimers New Zealand is urging the Government to recognise dementia as the most serious health crisis to be faced this century.
The reality is dementia is expected to increase to epidemic proportions in the very near future due to our countries ageing population. Today, there are around 44,000 recorded cases of dementia in New Zealand. However, we expect the true figure to be significantly larger than this as only 60 per cent of cases are diagnosed, according to the World Alzheimer Report 2011. Cases of dementia are expected to double every twenty years. In 2050, the number of people newly diagnosed with dementia will exceed the amount of people with the disease in New Zealand currently. Dementia has no cure.
Around half of all New Zealanders with dementia live with family carers, many of whom provide around-the-clock care with little or no government support.
It is inevitable that governments worldwide will spend increasing proportions of health and social care budget on older people living with chronic conditions such as dementia. Nevertheless, few countries have developed comprehensive policies or plans to address the impact of dementia, now and for the future, and New Zealand is no exception.
Last year’s budget announcement was a step in the right direction. The dementia community has long recognised the need for greater cooperation between all dementia response agencies in order to best prepare New Zealand for the expected ‘epidemic’ of dementia over the coming years. The commitment from Government adds to that collaboration, and we welcome continued investment in order for us to fulfil our promise to people living with dementia in our local communities. Now that we have a significant investment from Government to address the pressing issues of quality care for people with advanced and acute dementia, as well as better supports for carers through respite, we can focus on building better strategies and securing the funding now needed to support people living with dementia in the home.
According to the Alzheimers New Zealand Dementia Economic Impact Report (2008), delaying the entry of people with dementia into residential aged care by just three months would save the Government $62.3 million. Alzheimers New Zealand has long advocated for better support for people caring for loved ones with dementia at home, as part of the Government’s Ageing in Place strategy.
We are asking the Government to make dementia a national health priority in order to adequately fund the sector and allow for people with dementia to stay in their homes with appropriate support for as long as possible. Dementia also needs to be included as a District Health Board health target.
A National Dementia Strategy, launched at Parliament in May 2010, established clear actions to better support people with dementia and their carers. This authoritative document was developed in consultation with stakeholders throughout the sector as well as those who face the daily challenge of living with the disease. The strategy identifies key areas needing investment including early diagnosis and management of the disease, appropriate services including best practices, and better supports for carers who provide in-home care.
The success of the National Dementia Strategy hinges on Government’s recognition of the social and economic impacts of the disease and adopting dementia as a national health priority.
With the right supports available within the community, issues of isolation for vulnerable elderly are immediately addressed and the urgency for residential care lessens. Government must address the needs of people with dementia at all stages of their journey and ensure that a transition to residential care is made at the right time. Essential supports to maintain a quality of life for the elderly should be a right, not a privilege.
Gaynor Duff is chairperson for the Alzheimers New Zealand board.
RESPONSE: HEALTH MINISTER, TONY RYALL
Dementia is a priority for this Government
In last year’s budget, we committed an extra $44 million over four years to look after people living with dementia. That new money includes $40 million for residential dementia services. This is expected to lead to the provision of almost 200 extra dementia beds. $4 million is for additional respite care for full-time carers of people with dementia. This will include in-home respite. In our first term of government, we invested an extra $5 million a year to increase the number of respite beds available. Individual DHBs are also expanding and improving their local services for older people, including those with dementia, as part of their annual plans.
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