A new report commissioned by Alzheimers New Zealand has found dementia rates in our Māori, Pasifika, and Asian communities will more than double by 2050.
The disparity in dementia care for these groups will grow even larger as numbers rise, as the groups are less likely to use our government funded services such as those in aged care facilities.
“We are talking about communities that don’t have the advantages European New Zealanders have,” said Makarena Dudley, a senior lecturer in psychology at Auckland University.
“Dementia services are already poor for them [people living with the disorder], but they are even worse for Māori, Pasifika, and Asian communities that have real access and cultural issues.
“Once their dementia numbers swell, as they will, and their demand for culturally competent dementia services increases, as it will, the health system won’t be able to cope,” she said.
Alzheimers NZ has called the inequities in care and lack of culturally competent services completely unacceptable.
For a variety of reasons, including cultural ones, Māori, Pasifika, and Asian communities prefer to remain at home with their families once ill and that means the burden of care for whānau increases significantly.
Currently, friends and whānau carry out one million hours per week of unpaid care for people living with dementia.
One of the researchers, Etuini Ma’u from the University of Auckland, says New Zealand’s dementia services must diversify to support our diverse population.
“There isn’t an increase in provision for community care for them [families who choose to look after patients at home]. So ultimate there’s an inequitable allocation of resources.
“If we’re going to provide an equitable dementia service, we need to be tailoring interventions that are appropriate to them,” he told 1News.
The 2020 Dementia Economic Impact Report also found the country’s cases will increase significantly in the next 30 years.
By 2050, it’s expected they’ll reach 170,000, compared to the 70,000 we have now.
The jump in numbers will see the cost on our health system also rise from $2.3 billion to $6 billion per year in that same timeframe, which Ma’u describes as ‘unsustainable’.
Those numbers could balloon even further, as they are based on the current cost of dementia care in New Zealand and do not account of inflation.
“On a global basis, dementia is akin to Covid in that international projections show it has the very real potential to overwhelm unprepared health systems worldwide, including ours,” said Alzheimers NZ chief executive Catherine Hall.
Hall describes New Zealand’s current dementia care services as “woefully inadequate” and said our systems are not prepared for an increase in pressure and demand as cases continue to surge.
While there’s still no cure for dementia experts here say the best way to tackle rising numbers is better prevention services for the disorder.
This includes better and national promotion and management of healthy bodies, brains, and hearts.
“If we look after our hearts and general wellbeing, we can make a big difference to the number of people in New Zealand with dementia. Good, research based health activities could see us reduce the numbers by 10 or even 20 percent,” Hall said.
Ma’u told 1News almost half of New Zealand’s dementia cases are potentially preventable if the right risk factors are targets.
He also said the potential prevention is even higher for Māori and Pasifika.
He believes the best course of action for New Zealand’s future dementia care plan is also to focus on prevention.
“If you cut down the number of people with dementia, you reduce the cost.”
Associate Minister of Health, Dr Ayesha Verrall told 1News the Government is committed to supporting Alzheimers NZ’s Dementia / Mate Wareware Action Plan, and that policy work is already underway to make dementia care in Aotearoa more equitable.
A revised version of the action plan included a greater focus on equity, and she said she looked forward to discussing with her colleagues how best to implement it.
“New Zealand’s growing and ageing population is continuing to put pressure on the health and disability system. Appropriately supporting people with dementia, and their carers, is critical to addressing these pressures,” she said.
The latest copy of the action plan was only received by the minister last week, but an earlier version can be found here .