Awareness of Alzheimer’s and the people it affects is continuing to grow in Central Otago as the work of the Central Otago branch of Alzheimers Society Otago (ASO) increases, ASO manager Julie Butler says.
The Central Otago branch of ASO last week celebrated its 10th anniversary and the scope and influence of the organisation continued to rise, Mrs Butler said.
New referrals and support services were increasing so it was heartening to see awareness of Alzheimer’s growing, she said.
“There are a number of groups and people coming to us both for support and wanting to help. There’s been a huge awakening.”
ASO Central Otago community support co-ordinator Donna Watt said one of the most significant changes was an increase in the number of support groups in the district.
New support groups had been set up in Cromwell and Queenstown to complement the existing support groups in Alexandra and Wanaka and there was also a new “socialisation group” for couples in Cromwell.
The groups provided invaluable support for people with Alzheimer’s and their carers, Mrs Watt said. ASO Central Otago now supported about 125 families.
As well as providing support for those with Alzheimer’s and their families, Mrs Watt’s role was also to highlight prevention, she said.
“Increasingly I’m being asked to talk to community groups and that just helps spread awareness. It’s [prevention] a major thing we need to get to a much wider audience.”
Last week, ASO Central Otago hosted a presentation from leading Alzheimer’s prevention researcher Associate Prof Yoram Barak.
Prof Barak, of Israel, is a consultant psychogeriatrician on a three- to five-year contract with the University of Otago’s Dunedin School of Medicine.
While in Dunedin he is splitting his time between Alzheimer’s prevention research and teaching and clinical work for geriatric psychiatry.
Prof Barak said Alzheimer’s prevention was less “sexy” than finding a cure, but vital.
Already, significant risk factors had been identified; for example, those who were overweight, ate a lot of red meat, smoked, had diabetes or lacked social interaction had higher rates of Alzheimer’s.
Alzheimer’s prevention was therefore based on assessing and modifying people’s lifestyles, without needing to understand why certain factors increased the risk of Alzheimer’s, Prof Barak said.
“That’s the beauty of prevention.”
At present, Prof Barak is heading a Dunedin dementia risk awareness survey, which involves an initial survey with 300 people and then a more detailed one with 1500 people in Dunedin and Southland.