It’s one of the biggest challenges facing the country’s health system – one that will cost the economy $4.5 billion and affect more than 170,000 New Zealanders by 2050.
It is dementia, and 91% of New Zealanders are frightened of it, according to a new survey by Public Trust and Dementia New Zealand.
Dementia New Zealand CEO Paul Sullivan is keen for New Zealanders to lose the fear – and stigma – associated with dementia and focus on how education and preparation can improve the quality of life for someone with the condition.
“There are many misconceptions around dementia, but it is still a health issue that needs to be confronted head on,” he says.
“One way to do this is to be prepared. We want people to feel empowered about protecting themselves and their family and not put off critical decisions just because they are uncomfortable about them.”
While 75% of those surveyed realise the importance of discussing preferred care with family in the case of dementia, just 18% have taken one of the most essential steps to ensure this is possible – getting enduring powers of attorney (EPAs).
Nearly 40% of those surveyed say they have actual experience of dementia through knowing someone with the condition, but just 25% of this group have EPAs.
EPAs are legal documents that give a trusted individual or organisation the power to make decisions on your behalf if you can no longer make them yourself. Public Trust prepares around 2,500 EPAs for Kiwis very year.
Not having EPAs means friends or family will need to apply to the High Court for the right to make decisions for you. This takes time and may mean that the person appointed is not your preferred choice.
According to the survey, just 40% of people over the age of 65 have arranged EPAs, while just 19% have an advanced care plan.
“Dementia is a growing health challenge and will be a leading factor in individuals losing the capacity to make their own decisions,” says Public Trust General Manager Retail Julian Travaglia.
“The survey showed that many people understand what they could do to prepare for a situation where they are incapacitated, but it isn’t translating into action.
“We don’t want to scare people into action, but the consequences of not having EPAs are serious. It’s like not having insurance. Everything is fine until it’s not – until something actually happens.”
The nationally representative survey was commissioned by Public Trust and Dementia New Zealand and undertaken by Dynata. 277 people between the ages of 18 and 85 from the Dynata research panel were surveyed. Participants were selected to represent a cross-section of adult New Zealanders by age, gender and region.