The importance of being connected to a loved one with dementia is shown by an Auckland family.

You may not think dementia would be a relevant consideration for many people when deciding to install fibre broadband – but Andrew Chamberlain and wife Lauren beg to differ.

Lauren's mum Kaye lives in Australia and her struggles with dementia have been hard on the Chamberlain family and especially Lauren, who Andrew says has a really close connection with her mum.

Anyone who has had a sick family member or friend in another country knows something of the feelings of frustration and helplessness that can apply – and the Chamberlains attempted to ease that a little by weekly Skype calls to Kaye in her Sydney-based aged care facility.


"But we only had ADSL at the beginning and the connection was often patchy," says Andrew. "It was pretty rough; there was buffering and dropouts and it would crash from time to time.

"The problem with that was, when you're dealing with dementia and reception was bad, Kaye sometimes couldn't recognise us."

Enter fibre. When the Chamberlains installed it, the quality enhancement was obvious – and that is a far more important factor when the person on the other end of the call is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

"There's no buffering now, it's nearly always a good connection and it means a lot to us as, I have to say, I don't know that Kaye would recognise us if it wasn't so clear. Now, when we call her on Wednesdays, you can see Kaye's face light up – it's a pretty big deal."

Lauren and the family have been over to visit Kaye last Christmas and another trip is planned in the next school holidays. But those weekly Skype calls are invaluable, Andrew says, to preserve family togetherness and maintain contact.

Andrew's story reiterates the role technology can play in valuable human connections. Recent research by Chorus showed 63 per cent of 30-59 year olds felt connected to their extended family, compared with 29 per cent to neighbours and 21 per cent to the community.

But, with many Kiwis likely to seek out new ways to stay connected over the coming weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic, this number will likely increase.

Andrew says the ability of technology to span vast distances – in this case, the Tasman sea – is key for his family…and not just for Kaye's sake.


"It is a struggle [for Lauren] not being there when she is so close to her mum but at least she can see her mum and feel like she is making something of a normal visit."

Kaye's condition means she does not always recognise family members even with the crystal-clear connection. Andrew says it hit Lauren the hardest when, on one call, Kaye did not recognise her own daughter: "Most of the time, she is fine and recognises us though she has a bit of trouble remembering me, even though we have been pretty close too.

"But it really gave her [Lauren] a bit of a hit when Kaye didn't recognise her one time a couple of months ago. Of course, the disease is progressing and we know it is difficult and will be difficult – but if we didn't have this call every week to talk to her, well, it would be really hard then."

The Chamberlains are helped with their connection to Kaye by a wellbeing person who is part of the staff in the aged care facility in Sydney.

"They have wellbeing co-ordinators as well as doctors, nurses and carers and their job is to ensure the wellbeing and personal connections are maintained by each family; they facilitate regular contact with families."

As for the rest of the Chamberlain family, their 12-, 10- and six-year-old kids are also happy users of the fibre broadband.

Andrew, a network connections manager, says Netflix,YouTube and Disney Plus are the most popular viewing entertainment in their house, so their TV is all delivered over the internet.

"We are a little old-fashioned, I guess, in that we set quite strict limits on the amount of screen time the kids have. We allow time during the week and the weekends, of course, but we also actively encourage them to get outside and be active, particularly when the sun is shining. "