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Central Otago residents are being urged to look after themselves and their families and neighbours as the nation observes World Alzheimers Month and comes to terms with a growing incidence of dementia. Alzheimers Society Otago Central Otago support officer Donna Watt talks to Pam Jones about what is happening in the district and what people can do.

A sharp rise in the number of Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes district referrals to the Alzheimers Society Otago is the beginning of a predicted “tsunami” of people who will be affected by dementia, Central Otago support officer Donna Watt says.

Referrals in Central Otago and the Queenstown Lakes district had doubled in the past year, from 29 in 2018 to 57 this year, Mrs Watt said.

There was an “exploding need” for more support for those with dementia and their families, but a lack of resourcing, she said.

Mrs Watt said she would like to see more funding for dementia services from the Government, as the nation’s ageing population meant a “tsunami” of dementia cases was imminent.

But there was much individuals and people could do, both to keep themselves as healthy as possible to try to prevent dementia or delay its onset, and to support those affected by dementia.

One of the easiest and most important things people could do was to keep visiting those with dementia and their families, Mrs Watt said.

“One of the most practical things that we would love for people to do is to stay in touch with people they know who are developing or have dementia, to continue to visit and offer support to that family.”

Sadly, people sometimes stopped visiting people with dementia, as they felt they did not know how to communicate with them as the disease progressed.

But maintaining contact with others was vital both for those with dementia and their caregivers, Mrs Watt said.

She said a pilot scheme in Queenstown to help those with mild to moderate dementia had gone well and she hoped it could be continued and expanded.

The scheme – for cognitive stimulation therapy, or CST – had a group of people with dementia meet twice-weekly for seven weeks for conversational sessions with a trained facilitator and then continue taking part in a 24-week programme run by volunteers.

Feedback had been excellent and there had been specific improvements in cognition and mood for those taking part, Mrs Watt said.

She hoped the programme could be introduced in other areas, but this was dependent on funding.

Activities

  • Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes residents are being asked to wear purple for World Alzheimers Month this month, hold a “cuppa for a cause” and share experiences of dementia over a shared morning tea, and collect donations for Alzheimers Society Otago to continue the organisation’s work. All donations stay within Otago.
  • To inquire about supporting World Alzheimers Month activities, email manager@alzheimersotago.org.nz or phone (03) 471-6154.
  • Also look out for fundraising raffles at Alexandra New World today, tomorrow and Saturday.

Conversation tips

Mrs Watt said there were three main “tips” for conversation with those affected by dementia, at whatever stage.

  • Firstly, it was important “not to ask too many questions”, as this could immediately make a person with dementia feel stressed and uncomfortable. “Make statements and reminisce instead. Talk about things that don’t require answers.”
  • It was also important for visitors to make eye contact and introduce themselves when arriving.
  • Another good idea was to take photos along on visits, to provide prompts and ideas for conversation.

Modify risk

Mrs Watt said there were things people could do to modify their risk for developing dementia.

They included maintaining a healthy, preferably Mediterranean diet, and managing weight, particularly in mid-life; managing high blood pressure and reducing the risk of diabetes; exercising; maintaining a positive mindset and learning new things; and socialising – loneliness was a risk factor for dementia.