Today I became a Dementia Friend. Since my involvement with INsite began some six years ago, I have become increasingly aware of the effects of dementia on people’s lives. What better way to spread this awareness by signing up to this initiative.

The much-anticipated Dementia Friends programme was launched today in New Zealand by Alzheimers New Zealand. Becoming a Dementia Friend is easy, as I found out. It’s a quick online process that provides some basic information about dementia and little things we can do to make life a little easier for people with dementia.

By becoming a dementia friend today I heard the stories of Helen, Alister and Rita, all people living with dementia. As a cyclist, I was particularly touched by what Alister had to say. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2014 when he turned 60 years old, Alister has not let dementia get in the way of his passion for cycling, successfully completing the gruelling K2 Challenge with aspirations to compete in future races. However, he notes that perhaps a dementia friend would be able to help him with some of the planning and training elements that go hand-in-hand with the physical demands of the race.

Dementia Friends are encouraged to commit to actions, which can be things like helping people like Alister. They could be things like wearing a Dementia Friends badge or wristband or dropping round for a cuppa with a person living with dementia in your community. Another action might be giving up a couple of hours a week to volunteer for a local Alzheimer association or lobbying local businesses to become dementia friendly organisations.

Four out of five New Zealanders are affected by dementia, making it one of New Zealand’s biggest and growing social and health issues. And there is still stigma, discrimination, and a misunderstanding associated with dementia.

By becoming a Dementia Friend, people can learn more about dementia and the impact it has. The idea is that if more of us joined the programme, we’d make New Zealand a more supportive, inclusive and understanding place for people living with dementia.

Will you join me in becoming a Dementia Friend?

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