Improving cities for people with dementia

Dementia-friendly cities mean people living with dementia could stay at home longer, writes Bupa New Zealand's Managing Director Jan Adams. Here's how we can make this possible.

Figures released last week by Alzheimer’s New Zealand estimate that the number of people living with dementia in New Zealand is expected to increase from 1.3% of the population today up to 2.9% of the population in 2050. To put those percentages into context that’s a rise from 62,287 people in 2016 to a staggering 147,359 people in 2050.

People living with dementia need appropriate care and support to be available to them as the disease progresses. This can often mean moving into a residential care home. In 2016 it’s estimated that as a nation we will spend $849.2million on aged care attributed to dementia, largely funded by District Health Boards. That’s expensive and unsustainable.

We need to think differently about how we can support people living with dementia with the right care and support to enable them to live well for as long as possible at home, which could avoid unnecessary hospital stays, and potentially delay moving into a care home. The person living with dementia will stay well for longer, and the cost to the health system could be less.

But how do we do it? A part of the solution could be to create dementia-friendly cities. Meaning people living with dementia could stay at home, supported by their communities to feel included, respected and safe for longer.

At Bupa, we’ve been involved in some of the first dementia-friendly projects in New Zealand to look at how we could help make dementia-friendly communities become a reality. For example we’ve been part of a group looking to creating a dementia-friendly Rotorua, and Bupa Fergusson Retirement Village is the first in NZ to be recognised by Alzheimer’s NZ as dementia-friendly.

While good processes were already in place at Bupa Fergusson in Upper Hutt, Judy Bain, Village Manager worked with the local Alzheimer’s association and residents to make changes to better support residents who are living with a dementia diagnosis, and those who are pre-diagnosis. Little things can make a huge difference, things like having a clock which displays the day and month as well as the time to help to orientate people, and offering dementia awareness sessions to employees and residents.

In Rotorua, over the past year, we’ve worked with Rotorua Lakes Council, charities, businesses and members of the community and set up a Dementia-Friendly Steering Group as a first step in creating a dementia-friendly Rotorua – the first community of its kind in New Zealand.

We’ve been raising awareness of dementia in the community, held a dementia-friendly Christmas carol concert, and Rotorua is also home to a dementia-friendly bank – Westpac. Plans for the future include raising awareness of dementia with children, to help create a dementia-friendly generation. We’ll continue working with the community in Rotorua, and one of the next steps for Bupa is for our retirement villages in the area to achieve the Alzheimer’s NZ dementia-friendly award.

The Dementia-Friendly Rotorua Steering Group have written a report sharing their learnings, in the hope that it can help other communities looking to start similar projects.

Download the First Steps to a Dementia-Friendly Rotorua report here.

Read more news about aged care