Alzheimers "Cuppa for a Cause" DaySenior Citizens
It is a real pleasure to be in your company, supporting the Alzheimers Society's "Cuppa for a Cause" day here in Christchurch.
As the newly appointed Senior Citizens Minister I have had to come up to speed very quickly with the multitude of issues facing older people.
I have to admit Alzheimers was, until recently, a disease I knew very little about.
I am fortunate enough to have a mum and dad who, while both are in their eighties, are healthy, active and mentally alert.
My parents love to travel, they take care of themselves with little daily support and in fact, until recently, my father ran regularly and prided himself on his fitness.
I am very aware that for many other people however life is not as simple, as they and close family members get older.
It's common for most people to be able to identify a parent, a spouse or a close relative who is suffering from an age-related illness.
Alzheimers and dementia are more common than we think.
I have been told that 10 percent of adults over the age of 65 years are affected by Alzheimers, that's a staggering proportion.
And around 38,000 New Zealanders are estimated to have dementia.
In Canterbury alone, more than 5000 people are affected by dementia.
My understanding of Alzheimers is that its biggest impact is its ability to take away the independence and mental coherence of the person concerned.
It's debilitating to have to admit that you need help, but in the case of Alzheimers sufferers many people do not even have an awareness they need assistance.
This makes caring for people with this disease even more difficult, and my sympathies go out to those who struggle with the responsibilities of being an Alzheimers support person on a 24-hour basis.
Support people or carers can't be thanked enough, by their families and by society for the work they do.
The people who care for Alzheimers sufferers are often older persons themselves, and the burden I am told can be horrendous.
These people continue to smile and carry on loving and supporting their family member; it is a real tribute to them.
Tonight however I would like to say a few words about the groups behind the carers.
The Alzheimers Society in particular is a wonderful example of one of the hundreds of community groups up and down our country that supports families of individuals with afflictions.
And what would we do without these groups?
Without community support groups many problems, illnesses and disabilities in our society would not be addressed to the extent they are today.
The disease Alzheimers is probably one of them
I am very aware however that providing support comes with a cost. And for our community groups, the cost is not just financial, but also the cost of finding people with time to spare.
Finding volunteers is becoming more difficult in the 1990s.
Life for most of us today is busier than ever before and I can speak for many others when I say it's hard enough to find free time to be with your family, let alone donate time to a community cause.
That's why we need to recognise and show our appreciation where possible for our community support groups. These people are truly special.
They willingly give up hours of their week to help the needs of others.
They do this by providing practical and emotional help, by supplying families with information and setting up meetings with the appropriate health care professionals.
This is not time given easily for most of these people. The old saying "when you need a job done find a busy person" probably applies to most of our volunteers.
Volunteer work is also draining. Emotionally and physically so. People who give to the community usually give more than their time, they lend a sympathetic ear and often take their client's problems home with them.
They deserve to be recognised, to be celebrated and to be congratulated on a role well done, and a role that is very necessary in our society today.
I can't mention the workings of community groups, without commenting on funding.
With the current financial crisis world-wide the Government sadly hasn't the funds to support all the financial commitments of community groups today.
We support the Alzheimers Society through a contract with the Ministry of Health, but additional funding is also important.
This is where community support and business and corporate sponsorship is becoming more significant.
I would urge businesses and corporates looking to play a greater role in community affairs to consider talking to community support groups.
There are mutual benefits for both parties, and the health and welfare of our society is boosted when we see these groups come together.
Finally one last word for the Alzheimers Society of New Zealand.
As the new Senior Citizens Minister I have been made aware very rapidly of the looming impact our ageing population is going to have on our country.
Over the next twenty years we can expect a huge increase in the numbers of people 65 years and over, basically we will see a doubling of the population in this age group.
This presents an enormous challenge for our communities and dementia and Alzheimers disease will become more prominent.
I would like to encourage the society to continue with its excellent work, including its support systems, research and information services and awareness campaigns in the community.
We will need you more than ever in the next twenty years and I look forward to watching your organisation tackle the challenges.