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Understanding dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is a progressive intellectual disability. It is caused by the brain being damaged by diseases that get worse over time, and which cannot be treated. The most common type is Alzheimer’s Disease.

Find out how people can be affected by dementia.


Struggling to remember what you've just done or what you were about to do


Getting lost in familiar places


Forgetting the names of your friends, whānau or everyday objects


Difficulty following conversations


Not being able to find the right words


Struggling to make sense of your thoughts


There are a lot of myths about dementia. How many of these have you heard before?

[Select each one to see what it’s really like to live with dementia.]

Myth: "Dementia is just a part of ageing"

Myth: "Only really old people get it."

Myth: "Dementia destroys the person, leaving an empty shell behind."

Myth: "Dementia is just when you become forgetful."

Do you know how many people are estimated to be living with dementia worldwide?

60 million

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What is dementia like for me?

How does dementia affect the brain?

Each part of the brain is responsible for a different purpose.

When a person is affected by dementia, it can become very difficult to do the everyday things we take for granted. Dementia stops their brain from working properly.

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Types of dementia

There are many types of dementia. Some are more common than others.

[Use the right and left arrows to select and learn about four types of dementia.]

How can you help to build a more dementia inclusive New Zealand?

By understanding dementia and seeing the person first, and their dementia second, we can help build a dementia inclusive New Zealand.

Everyone is unique – and by respecting a person's experiences and feelings we can help them, their families and whānau to live well with dementia.

Take Alzheimers New Zealand's simple 15 minute questionnaire and become a ‘Dementia friend’ today.

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Top five tips when talking to a person with dementia.

  1. Reduce background noise. Try to remove distractions such as TV or radio when you are trying to communicate. One-to-one conversations will be easier, but if you can't avoid a group situation, try to ensure only one person speaks at a time.
  2. Speak slowly and distinctly. Use clear and simple words and be patient. If the person pauses, count slowly to 10 in your head before breaking the silence.
  3. Stick to closed questions. Make sure that all questions have a direct ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. For example, instead of asking ‘What would you like for lunch?’ ask ‘Would you like a cheese sandwich?’
  4. Never say ‘I've told you this before’. If the person asks you something that you’ve already spoken about, be patient. Carefully explain it to them again.
  5. Think about your body language. Face the person and use their name. Eye contact shows you're listening and a gentle tone of voice is reassuring. A smile can be infectious!

"I'm scared to go out on my own, The other day I went to go round to a neighbour down the road and I found myself in the wrong street."

"We went out food shopping and my wife asked me what shall we have for dinner. I couldn’t decide. I got myself into a real muddle and became really angry. I find myself wanting my wife to organise everything for me, to make my life easier."

"My daughter took me to my granddaughter’s party. I got inside the house and just panicked. It didn’t feel like her house. I wanted to go home. I know it must be tough for my daughter to see me this way."

"I get worried about leaving my familiar environment.When I get past the end of the driveway, I grip my wife’s hand tightly and my breathing gets faster. But I know I can’t stay in all the time."

"I always loved to cook seafood. But now when I go to the fish shop, I can’t seem to find the right words. The shop keeper tries to help by suggesting words, but I just get angry."

"Once at the hospital, I accidentally wet myself, I was nervous and couldn’t find the toilet in time because all the signs looked the same. I was so ashamed. Luckily the nurses understood and told me not to worry."

Dementia care

Dementia friends

Learn simple ways to help a person living with dementia and receive a free badge or wristband and certificate.

Become a Dementia friend
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Reducing your risks

There are many things we're still learning about dementia and its causes.

Reducing your risks