Widow's heartfelt Alzheimer's plea

STRONG SUPPORTER: Heidi Cramb says the work of Alzheimer’s Waikato gave her the will to live.
STRONG SUPPORTER: Heidi Cramb says the work of Alzheimer’s Waikato gave her the will to live.

Heidi Cramb lost her husband last year to an incurable disease that robbed the couple of more than half a century of memories.

As Frank Sinatra sings softly in the background, Cramb recalls her husband Tony's battle with Alzheimer's, a struggle that almost claimed her life as well.

"I wanted to commit suicide," Cramb said while sitting in one of the two matching chairs that she once sat in beside her husband.

"If it wasn't for Alzheimer's Waikato, I probably would have."

The Waikato branch of Alzheimer's New Zealand provided Cramb a lifeline - the group offers ongoing support and education about the condition as well as help for those affected.

Currently Alzheimer's Waikato gets just over $46,000 annually from the Waikato District Health Board, far less than many other regions get from their DHBs.

The two branches in Napier and Hastings receive more than $600,000 combined from Hawke's Bay DHB.

South Canterbury provides $1392 to the Canterbury branch of Alzheimer's NZ, which also gets $259,429 from the Canterbury DHB.

And although the funding discrepancy could be because of the different services they provide, Cramb said the organisations deserved more money.

The Napier/Hastings Alzheimer's branch provides a respite programme for patients with Alzheimer's, and Waikato provides support for the families and those affected.

Manager of Alzheimer's Waikato Jane Kay acknowledged the need for more resources.

"Due to the increase in dementia we are always seeking more funding to provide adequate services to people in the community.

"We have a working relationship with the DHB and our other funders and they are aware of the increasing needs of the organisation."

Waikato DHB Planning and Funding general manager Brett Paradine defended the DHB's funding, saying fewer people were using the service.

"Due to a much lower than expected number of referrals to the service that funding approach was changed in June 2011 and 2012 so the DHB would pay 80 per cent of the contracted amount, even if fewer people than expected were accessing the service.

"If numbers were higher, then 100 per cent of the contract value would still be available. The idea behind that change was to help protect Alzheimer's Waikato from the risk of lower than expected referral numbers."

He said the DHB also funded dementia support outside of Alzheimer's Waikato's scope, including carer support, community day programmes, residential day care within the aged-care facilities and overseeing medication regimes for those living alone with dementia.

Alzheimer's New Zealand chief executive Catherine Hall estimated the number of Kiwis with the disease would triple to 150,000 within a few decades.

"In recent years there has been investment in services for people affected by dementia through Government budgets.

"But our view is more is needed now and . . . into the future, otherwise New Zealand isn't going to be able to respond to the challenge that dementia presents."

And with the current funding format differing significantly across the country, Hall said changes were needed to ensure all branches provided the same service across the country.

"People affected by dementia, they want to be able to go anywhere in New Zealand, into any DHB area and get the same service."

Currently groups are funded from various sources which include the DHB in their area.

Cramb, who is now a volunteer for the group, said funding should not only come from DHBs.

"You don't know if you will be affected by it - no one does.

"Everyone should give a little, it makes the world of difference to those affected by the disease."

Cramb said the education for family members was invaluable.

"They taught me how to be with my husband again. Seeing him go from this intelligent, witty man back to a baby was heart-breaking. They showed me how to engage with him. I couldn't have done it without them."


Funding for Alzheimer's services 2013-2014.

South Canterbury District Health Board: $1392.

Hutt Valley DHB: $13,967.

Capital and Coast DHB: $25,448.

West Coast DHB: $33,064.

Waikato DHB: $46,234.

Tairawhiti DHB: $64,019.

Nelson Marlborough DHB: $120,274.

Taranaki DHB: $153,280.

Hawke's Bay DHB: $671,865.

Waitemata DHB: $172,123.

Auckland DHB: $233,350.

Canterbury DHB: $259,429.

Northland DHB: $392,810.

Counties Manukau DHB: $446,317.

Waikato Times