Promoting mental health, demystifying mental illness, countering stigma and discrimination

Alzheimer's Disease(Dementia)

What is Alzheimer's Disease/Dementia?

Alzheimer's Disease is the most common form of dementia and attacks the parts of the brain that control thinking, memory and language. The onset of the disease is gradual and the person's decline is usually slow. Currently the cause of the disease is unknown and there is no cure.

An estimated 38,000 people in New Zealand have Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia. This number is growing as our population ages.

There are two major types of Alzheimer's Disease:
Early Alzheimer's. This starts at 65 years or younger.
Late Alzheimer's. This starts after the age of 65 years.

Symptoms of Alzheimer's/Dementia:

Dementia of every type is marked by a loss of intellectual function. The major symptom is a loss of memory.

Other possible signs include:
  • Increasing loss of language skills
  • Declining ability to perform routine tasks
  • Impairment of judgement
  • Disorientation of time and place
  • Personality changes
  • Changes in mood and behaviour
  • Difficulty in planning, organising and ordering events
  • Difficulty in recognising known objects and people
  • Misplacing objects
  • A gradual withdrawal from social and personal situations
There is variation in the rate of change from person to person, rapid in some people, gradual and uneven in others.

How common is Alzheimer's/Dementia?

Some dementias, such as HIV or alcohol related dementias, can occur in younger people, however dementia is most likely to afflict elderly people.
It is believed that:
In the 65-80 age group, 3-7% will have dementia

In the 80 and over age group this rises to 20%

How is Alzheimer's Disease diagnosed?

There is no single test for Alzheimer's disease. Before diagnosis of the disease is made, treatable conditions such as depression, metabolic changes, nutritional deficiencies, head injuries and thyroid problems must be excluded. General Practitioners (GPs) can arrange for a mental health professional to undertake more extensive neuro-psychological investigation and social evaluations of the person's personal history. Because the disease affects memory it is very important to have information from family/whanau to complete the personal history.

How is Alzheimer's Disease treated?

Improvements to sleeping patterns
Treatment of depression
Regular physical exercise
Health maintenance
Structured and safe environment
Reading, T.V. and radio keep the person in touch with the outside world.
Visits from family/whanau and friends
Family/Whanau support

Two recently available medications have been shown to maintain, and in some cases enhance, about two thirds of people in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. The drugs are not subsidized at this time. It is wise to discuss their use with a specialist before deciding to have these prescribed as the costs are borne by the patient.

What happens to someone with Alzheimer's Disease?

At this time, there is no known cure for dementia of the Alzheimer's type. Usually the disease begins slowly, progresses gradually and leads to death. Eventually, medical care is required, whether from a spouse, other family members or with the help of nursing home professionals.

For further information and support:

There are 22 regional Alzheimer's members groups throughout New Zealand that provide a wide variety of information, arrange education programmes, care support groups and undertake field work in the community.

Resources in Taranaki:

Taranaki Health - Mental Health Services for Older Adults.
P.O.Box 2016,
New Plymouth.
Tel: 06 753 6139
Fax: 06 753 7715
ADARDS - (Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorder)
P.O.Box 8303.
New Plymouth. 4342.
Tel/Fax: 06 758 2916

Information and support for families and carers available from:

Alzheimers Taranaki Office
117 Powderham Street
P O Box 8803
New Plymouth. 4342
Tel: 06 769 6916 or 0800 004 001
Mon - Fri 10am-1pm
Field Officers:
Anne Fletcher (North Taranaki)Tel: 06 758 3683
Lynne Kahui (South Taranaki)Tel: 06 278 8519

Alzheimer's New Zealand
P O Box 3643,
Tel: 04 381 2362
Fax: 04 381 2365
The following websites provide information on dementia:

Mental Health Foundation

A NZ website with an 18 page fact sheet on

Alzheimer's Disease and Dementia related sites

Mental Help Net - Alzheimer's site:

An international website with data on most mental illnesses.

Like Minds Taranaki gratefully acknowledges the financial support of this website by
The Ministry of Health

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