It may not be the most fashionable subject, but dementia is one that needs to be spoken about openly, says Alzheimers Taranaki field worker Shirley McGlinchey.

During her 16 years on the job Shirley has helped families affected by dementia in South Taranaki and spread awareness about the condition. She recently addressed Stratford and Districts Greypower members on the topic, saying that everybody would know somebody with dementia.

"It's a very sensitive subject - talking about it is not fashionable. We need to be a bit more aware to it as it is one of the greatest healthy challenges in New Zealand at the moment."

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of conditions that affect how well our brains work. It can affect anyone, and as people get older the chances of developing dementia increase. The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's disease which around two-thirds of people with dementia have.


The reason there is so much more dementia is due to longevity, and genetics also plays a part.

Shirley is helping push for a dementia-friendly society where people and businesses are educated to look after those suffering from the condition properly.

Alzheimers new Zealand is looking for businesses and organisations to sign up to the Dementia-friendly Recognition Programme. It is a way for organisations and businesses in New Zealand to become accredited as dementia-friendly and any business or organisation can be involved - such as cafes, libraries, banks or shops.

The programme aims to raise public awareness of dementia, assist people with dementia to continue living well in their communities.

More than 170,000 people are forecast to have dementia by 2050. The number of women with dementia is around 30 per cent higher than the number of men with dementia and since 2011 the economic costs of dementia have increased by 75 per cent and could be over $4.6 billion by 2050.

Shirley says that how people present depends on what part of the brain is affected and every family needed different services. Signs of dementia include personality change, short-term memory loss, a loss of confidence and a withdrawal from society.

Shirley says dementia needed greater understanding and acceptance.

"Dementia has an impact on relationships. We can have heart or respiratory or renal failure and we keep our friends but with dementia we lose half of our friends because people are frightened and disappear.

"Most people living with dementia are up the street living just like us. Most people are out in the community living and they need our help and support so they can continue living in the community."