ANZASW Statement for World’s Alzheimer’s Month

As World Alzheimer’s Month comes to a close, the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) pays tribute to members who have worked so hard to support those with Alzheimer’s and their carers and promote awareness of the condition across our society- not only this September, but on a daily basis.

We especially salute our hard-working colleagues who walk with those who have the condition, promoting dignity, independence and social connection, while supporting the families / Whanau and communities also impacted.

Social workers provide a variety of supports to people with Alzheimer’s, in collaboration with other health professionals. As an ANZASW member in Canterbury put it: “Where the medical profession may just be targeting one aspect of a person’s well-being we’re looking very much at everything.”.

This can include but is not limited to protecting legal and human rights; preventing abuse; facilitating socialization and referrals to support groups for both individuals and carers. At times of crisis, social workers are active in intervening to protect the best interests of their client, often in circumstances that are complex and challenging.

A little-known part of Alzheimer’s social work is the support that social workers provide to those who have been recently diagnosed, helping them overcome shock and empower themselves by developing support strategies tailored to their needs so that they maintain independence and a high quality of life.

“Often the media portray people with Alzheimer’s as at the very end of their lifespan,” our member continued. “This can sometimes perpetuate the negative images associated with Alzheimer’s where someone is immobilised and needing help to be fed. Actually, we know that the continuum is huge between the day of diagnosis and the end of their lives.”

“What we focus on is the bit in-between- where people can live a very, long, happy and productive life with Alzheimer’s in the community,” she added.

As a country we need to be prepared for a predicted increase in cases of Alzheimers, reflecting the trend toward an aging population in the western world. It is estimated that 170,000 people will have the condition by 2050; it is up to all of us to develop a Dementia and Alzheimer’s-friendly Aotearoa New Zealand where there is greater awareness about how to support those affected in the community,

As part of these preparations, we urge the government to implement the Framework for Dementia care that was prepared in 2013 but has since been neglected. We also support calls by organisations such as Alzheimers New Zealand for more funding to be directed toward research.

On an international level, ANZASW supports proposals for Alzheimers and Dementia to be emphasised in international development aid programmes in the Global South. After all, it is the developing world represents the majority of humanity, including the greatest number of persons living with the condition.

Finally, we offer our solidarity and appreciation to all those who do invaluable volunteering work to help those in our communities affected by Alzheimer’s. As New Zealanders, we should be proud of these unsung heroes.