25 Jun 2010

"Tsunami of dementia" on the way - warning

9:52 am on 25 June 2010

Health experts are warning that a tsunami of dementia cases is on the way - of which Alzheimer's disease will dominate.

Alzheimers New Zealand is urging the Government to make dementia a national health priority.

Health Minister Tony Ryall says that is not necessary, but he is concerned about the situation.

Alzheimers, a progressive disease, causes problems with memory, everyday skills and reasoning.

An estimated 41,000 New Zealanders are thought to have dementia - of which Alzheimer's disease is the most common type.

By 2050, that number will have risen dramatically because of the growing number of people living to an older age.

At a recent conference in Wellington, Alzheimer's New Zealand national director Johan Voss warned the disease will increase to epidemic proportions.

The organisation recently launched a national dementia strategy.

Board member Nigel Wynn, who has dementia, says the group wants to heighten awareness of the impending crisis and it's urging the Government to make dementia a health priority.

Australian priority

Five years ago, Australia became the first country to make dementia a national health priority.

It's since been followed by at least seven other countries, including Britain and South Korea.

New South Wales Alzheimer's Association chairman Peter Baume, a former a former health minister, says making dementia a priority in Australia meant the importance of the disease was recognised for the first time.

He says dementia is the third most common cause of death in Australia and that's set to become worse.

Mr Ryall calls dementia the greatest challenge the New Zealand health service is going to face.

However, he says he does not believe adding it to the list of national health priorities would do much good.

Mr Ryall says district health boards and aged care providers are working on a study that will identify what can be done to make sure enough rest home care is provided for people with dementia.

The project is expected to be finalised in August.

People who have dementia, and their carers, will talk about how the disease has affected their lives and relationships on Insight on Sunday.