Question and answers

A Dementia Friend is someone who learns about what it is like to live with dementia, and also makes a commitment to action that will help people with dementia to live well. Anyone can become a Dementia Friend. 

Find out more using the questions below.

 Why does New Zealand need a programme like Dementia Friends?

Like many other countries, New Zealand is experiencing extraordinary growth in the number of people living with dementia.  Four out of five New Zealanders are affected by dementia in some way making it one of New Zealand’s most significant and growing social and healthcare issues.

But there is still stigma, discrimination, and a misunderstanding associated with dementia. Developing the right support and helping to create a more inclusive community for the tens of thousands of Kiwis living with dementia in New Zealand – expected to swell to more than 170,000 people by 2050 – can’t wait.

Living with dementia is varied, changeable and unique to each person and their situation.  What is helpful cannot be static or a one size fits all interpretation.  A better awareness of people’s experiences, and developing more inclusive, dementia friendly communities, is desperately needed.  This will then assist older people generally, and people with dementia specifically, to live better lives where they can play a full and meaningful role.

 What is the Dementia Friends programme?

Dementia Friends is an Alzheimers NZ initiative seeking to achieve a dementia friendly New Zealand by raising awareness, increasing understanding, reducing stigma and discrimination, and growing acceptance of people living with dementia.

The focus of Dementia Friends is on the person living with dementia and their experience and how a Dementia Friend can help. Dementia Friends aims to help us understand what that experience is like. A Dementia Friend then uses that knowledge to support people with dementia.

Alzheimers NZ’s programme has been informed and shaped first and foremost by the voices and input of Kiwis living with dementia.

Our ultimate hope is that tens of thousands New Zealanders choose to become a Dementia Friend, and their actions help increase awareness and create positive changes for their fellow New Zealanders living with dementia.

 What does a Dementia Friend do?

A Dementia Friend commits to take an action with or for someone or people living with dementia.  Even very small actions can make a big difference – no action is too small or too big. Support can take the shape of something simple like wearing the Dementia Friends badge or bracelet, dropping by for a cuppa with someone living with dementia, helping them cook a meal, taking a walk with them, or helping with the weekly grocery shop. Dementia Friends choose the action or actions they are comfortable with and able to offer.

The programme helps ordinary Kiwis understand and feel more confident to support someone or people living with dementia through becoming Dementia Friends. It is a social movement designed to increase the size of the community committed to supporting Kiwis with dementia to live the lives they want to.

 Why should I become an Dementia Friend?

Put simply, becoming a Dementia Friend means you can help make a positive difference for people with dementia.  Each Dementia Friend’s action can help (including your action when you join us and become a Dementia Friend). The collective actions of a growing community of Dementia Friends will contribute to a more supportive, inclusive and understanding New Zealand, and to people with dementia being able to live the lives they want.

Living with dementia is a big adjustment. It is totally normal for a person to feel a wide range of emotions after being diagnosed with dementia. People might feel shock, sadness, frustration, relief, embarrassment, anger and loss. But with support, people living with dementia can continue to live well with their families, whānau and friends in their communities. A Dementia Friend can choose the action that is right for them, and through that action they can contribute to supporting and helping people with dementia in New Zealand.

Simple actions can make a big difference. First up and most importantly, everyone likes to be treated kindly and respectfully, to be valued and included. This is no different if a person has dementia. Keeping in touch with someone, even if it is difficult, is a way a Dementia Friend can help. Staying involved and actively engaged in life in ways that suit them is key to a person with dementia maintaining their abilities and wellbeing.

Dementia Friends will help Kiwis to better understand dementia and how they can, even in very small ways, support someone with living dementia.

 Where does the idea of Dementia Friends come from?

First and foremost, Dementia Friends has been informed and shaped by the voices and input of Kiwis living with dementia. 

The concept originated in Japan in 2005, as a nationwide initiative to train Ninchisho Supporters to understand dementia and build community networks. Japan’s approach was adapted and informed the UK Dementia Friends programme (launched in 2013). Subsequently, many countries have launched (or are about to launch) their own Dementia Friends programmes. Research into other countries approaches has also informed our programme.

 How do I become a Dementia Friend?

Anyone can become a Dementia Friend, and we invite you want to join us. Whether you are a schoolkid or a chief executive, a Cabinet Minister or someone in between, you can be a Dementia Friend.

To become a Dementia Friend, it’s as easy as completing Alzheimers NZ’s quick online programme here.  There is also no cost other than the time to take part.

 What happens once I become a Dementia Friend?

When you complete the online programme, you will receive a Dementia Friends certificate, and a badge or a wristband. We want to hear how you get on as a Dementia Friend and will keep you up to date about what we are doing. You can like our Facebook page, post photos and tell us how you get on with your action here.

 What is dementia?

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of conditions that affect how well our brains work.  Dementia 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 symptoms each person experiences depends on the parts of the brain that are affected. However, the most common dementia symptoms include changes in memory, thinking, behaviour, personality and emotions. These changes affect a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks and interfere with their everyday lives.

Dementia is progressive, which means that for most people the changes gradually spread through the brain and lead to the symptoms getting worse. Dementia is different for everyone – what people experience, and how quickly they are affected is unique to them. What they can do, remember and understand may change from day to day.

 What if I want to help? I’m worried about myself or someone else.

Early symptoms of dementia can be subtle and hard to recognise. We recommend seeing a doctor as soon as there are any concerns. An early diagnosis means early access to support.

Your local Alzheimers organisation offer support and expertise. You can contact your local office on 0800 004 001 or here.