Alzheimer's disease is something especially close to Cheryl Carlaw's heart.

The Tauranga woman's parents both live with Alzheimer's and dementia. The support Carlaw received after their diagnoses is something she will always treasure and served as her reason for joining hundreds of others in a Memory Walk at Mount Maunganui on Saturday.

The walk attracted an enormous crowd dressed in purple shirts as they marched from Coronation Park down Pilot Bay to Mauao and back again.

The message was clear: "Let's walk to remember. Let's walk for dementia."


Carlaw walked with mum June Pemberton in a wheelchair cuddling with Zola the dog.

Carlaw's husband was further along in the crowd with her father when she spoke to the Bay of Plenty Times of how she has now accepted "what life brings".

"But for me, it was very tough in the beginning. When it was all happening, I felt alone. I didn't feel like I had any support. The people that came through was the Alzheimer's Society. There was a lady who came and talked to me and my parents and took us through everything.

"For me today, this walk is to say 'thank you' and to make other people aware."

Dementia is one of New Zealand's most significant and growing healthcare challenges.

Four of five New Zealanders are affected in some way by dementia, and the number of people living with it in New Zealand is expected to nearly triple to about 170,000 by 2050.

Carlaw said the work of Alzheimers New Zealand was invaluable and helping individuals and their families manage the disease was an important cause.

For Carlaw, Alzheimer's had gradually crept up on her family about 10 years ago but got to a crucial point three to four years ago.


"If I had been able to recognise someone, to say 'can I talk to you', 'can I have a coffee with you', it would have been so helpful," she said.

Carlaw is now a "dementia friend" and displays a purple band around her wrist which indicates to anyone that they can talk to her about dementia and any issues or pressures they might be experiencing in their own lives.

Alzheimer's New Zealand chief executive Catherine Hall said even though dementia was one of New Zealand's most significant healthcare and social service challenges, there was very little discussion or acknowledgement of its everyday impacts.

"As a society, we must do more to support people with dementia to live well and play a full and meaningful role in their communities."

What is Alzheimer's disease?

Alzheimer's is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. In most people with Alzheimer's, symptoms come on gradually, first appearing after age 60.

The first sign of Alzheimer's disease is usually mild forgetfulness. At first, someone may have trouble remembering small things, like what they did yesterday.

They may get confused easily. Some people get very good at hiding signs for a long time.

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