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150,000 Kiwis with Dementia by 2050

There are currently around 60,000 Kiwis with dementia, with 33 people diagnosed every day. Dementia can affect every part of a person’s life: thinking, behaviour, social and working life and the ability to perform everyday tasks. Experts say the country is headed for an epidemic. The aging population means that by 2050, the number of dementia sufferers in New Zealand could be as high as 150,000.

Costs of Dementia

It’s estimated that Alzheimer’s costs are worth 1 percent of the world’s GDP. In 2011, the cost in New Zealand was around $954.8 million, a number that is only going to rise as the number of patients increases. This money goes to care homes, medication and doctor’s visits, but also includes the decrease in productivity, especially by carers who drop their hours or leave the workforce altogether to care for partners or parents.

New Zealand does have a framework for dementia care, but it hasn’t been funded or implemented. There are already costs associated with the aging population and the increased public health costs of dementia will add to the expected strains.

What Can the Industry Do?

Alzheimer's and dementia organisations are urging the government to act now, but the aged care industry can also take steps to prepare for the increase in people requiring dementia care.


There’s been an increase in people moving into retirement villages while still relatively young and healthy, bringing them into the sphere of the aged care sector before they develop dementia. Although there are some risk factors that can’t be controlled, including age and genes, more and more risk factors for dementia are being identified.

The industry has the opportunity to talk about these risk factors and help residents mitigate them. Experts say meditation, yoga and regularly using the brain through puzzles, reading and learning a new language can help grey matter stay healthy. Additionally, obesity, diabetes and smoking are all risk factors of dementia, and groups dedicated to healthy living are another preventive measure.

Early Diagnosis

The aged care industry can also educate its residents about the importance of early diagnosis. Early diagnosis allows sufferers to make their wishes known and lets them receive education and support to minimise their symptoms. A recent study showed a 36-point therapeutic plan reversed memory problems in 9 out of 10 participants. The participant who didn’t improve was further along in the disease, showing that early diagnosis is vital to treatment.

By contrast, late diagnosis is stressful and can lead to depression, adding to the cost of care and resulting in poorer health outcomes for patients. Alzheimer’s NZ estimates that the government can save $63 million by keeping sufferers out of homes for just an extra three months. Early diagnosis brings opportunities for delaying the disease that are better for both patients and the economy.

Specialised Staff

The industry needs to promote dementia-specific training now so that there are enough staff when needed as the numbers grow. Staff need to understand the importance of integrated care that looks at the spiritual, family, cultural, economic, social and occupational needs as well as health requirements. The New Zealand Framework for Dementia Care emphasises best practices for care throughout the country and that means educating staff on the person-centred and people-directed approach recommended by experts.

Dementia Care

Finally, the aged care industry needs to be including specialised dementia care in its plans. Many homes already include this, as it’s well-known that residents are looking for continuity of care that allows them to stay in the same community until the end of their lives. However, many dementia care homes have waiting lists and the sector needs to question whether there will be enough beds available for the 150,000 sufferers in 2050.

The influx of dementia diagnoses will see a strain on the aged care sector as accommodation and staffing rush to cater for them. Planning now will help ease that strain and ensure patients receive the compassionate and respectful care they deserve as they live with their condition.