Elderly not the only ones suffering
Dementia is no longer a life challenge only elderly people face.
Alzheimers South Canterbury has 15 people under the age of 65 on its books, up from just six four years ago. At least two of those clients are in their 50s, with one of them in care. Another client under 65 is also in care.
Community liaison officer Barbara Fleming said the 15 clients were evidence Alzheimer's was not just "an older person's disease".
There were probably another two or three people, or more, who were not on the books, but could be, she said.
Mrs Fleming said it was unlikely the figures had increased because more people were getting the disease younger. Instead, she believed an increase in awareness had made people more familiar with the signs of Alzheimer's disease earlier.
"People are actually wanting to know what the disease entails and needing the support."
She said Alzheimer's had been regarded for many years as a disease that afflicted older people.
However, improvements to technology meant the number of people being diagnosed earlier was increasing, she said.
Coffee groups are regularly hosted by Alzheimers South Canterbury for clients in Waimate, Temuka, Geraldine, Pleasant Point, and Timaru, giving people a chance to meet others also living with the disease.
On average, the groups attract up to six people. However, 14 people attended a meeting in Waimate this week.
"They all have a common bond. They may not travel the same road, but the fact somebody is suffering from dementia gives them a common link."
Demand for South Canterbury's Alzheimers services has increased by 22 per cent in the past year, suggesting the stigma that comes with the condition is slowly diminishing.
Alzheimers South Canterbury had 210 clients on its books in September last year. Now there are 256.
The number of carers has also increased in that time, from 241 to 337.
Staff believe last year's inaugural Memory Walk contributed to the increase.
In a bid to further that awareness, the group will host its second Memory Walk on September 14. It will start at 11am from the Canon St end of Stafford St.
If last year's event is anything to go by, at least 500 people will take part by walking along Timaru's Stafford St. However, organisers are hoping to double that number this time round.
Alzheimers South Canterbury community liaison officer Barbara Fleming said the group's aim was to "destigmatise" the disease.
She said last year's Memory Walk attracted people of all ages, including rest home residents, school children, families and local dignitaries.
Participants are encouraged to write memories on a card, which are tied to ribbons for display as part of the event.
Since last year's walk Mrs Fleming's paid hours have increased from 30 to 35 a week to cope with the increase in demand. An administrator's paid hours also increased from 10 to 15. Up to 100 hours is also spent in the community each month raising awareness, planning and fundraising.
The group, which is not government-funded, has also welcomed the support of the Charity Bike Ride, which will give some of its next round of funds to Alzheimers South Canterbury.
- © Fairfax NZ News