Setting the agenda for a dementia-friendly australia

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24 March, 2014

Australia could become one of the world’s first dementia-friendly nations by implementing strategies that support people living with dementia to be empowered, respected and engaged in community life, says visiting British dementia expert Rachael Litherland.

Ms Litherland, a co-director of UK organisation Innovations in Dementia who developed and managed the national “Living with Dementia” program for the UK Alzheimer’s Society, was speaking in Brisbane ahead of a national public lecture tour for Alzheimer’s Australia.

“For too long people all over the world have treated dementia as taboo but it’s now time to bring the condition out of the shadows and engage with people living with dementia,” she said.

“Not enough people understand the social isolation and stigma that accompanies a diagnosis of dementia. Friends and relatives avoid social contact because they do not know how to communicate with people who have dementia.

“Simple changes in communication and the physical structure of our environment can have significant positive impact on the everyday lives of people living with dementia.

“Activities such as memory cafes, choirs, walking groups, volunteering and employment opportunities are all ways we can value people with dementia and create opportunities from which dementia-friendly communities can be built.

“Working on a dementia-friendly project in the UK called the Dementia Engagement and Empowerment Project, I found that improving the physical environment of public spaces and services such as banks, shopping malls and public transport by using signage that is simple, clear and uncluttered was a simple way to improve accessibility to public services for people with dementia.

“Encouraging businesses to train their staff to better communicate with and understand people living with dementia was another way to ensure that people with dementia were treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

“I know that already in Australia, Transport for NSW, 800 ANZ Branches, and progressive councils have been using the Alzheimer’s Australia Is it Dementia? training resource to help educate some of their frontline staff in dementia awareness. But this is only the first step in creating a nation that is truly dementia-friendly.”

Dementia Australia’s National President, Ita Buttrose, said: “The impact of a diagnosis of dementia can quickly result in a loss of confidence, changing roles and relationships and reduced opportunities for community participation which is why the dementia-friendly concept is an important one.

“People with dementia find it difficult to rely on others for things where they once were able to exercise freedom and self-determination.

“Dementia-friendly communities could give people with dementia the confidence and opportunity to continue to pursue their hobbies, make better use of local facilities and contribute to society in meaningful ways such as volunteering,” Ms Buttrose said.

Ms Litherland is in Australia as part of a national public lecture tour for Alzheimer’s Australia, supported by The Trust Company as trustee for The Fred P Archer Charitable Trust.

The tour begins in Brisbane on 24 March and continues to Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Hobart, Sydney, and finishes in Port Macquarie on 4 April.

National Dementia Helpline: 1800 100 500 
An interpreter service is available 
(The National Dementia Helpline is an Australian Government Initiative) 
Dementia is a National Health Priority Area