People living with dementia and their carers have been integral in the development of a new and exciting dementia education and awareness program soon to be launched by Dementia Australia.
The Dementia-Friendly Communities Program aims to build understanding, awareness and acceptance of dementia in Australian communities as well as to tackle stigma and social isolation surrounding the condition.
The town of Kiama, located in southern NSW, was used for a pilot project to test approaches for developing Dementia-Friendly Communities and is now one of the first Dementia-Friendly Communities in Australia.
With the launch of the Dementia-Friendly Communities Online Resource Hub nationally later this year this idea will be extended to organisations, businesses and communities across the country.
Dementia Friendly Kiama came to fruition in a collaboration between people living with dementia, Dementia Australia, the Kiama Council and the University of Wollongong.
Chair of the Kiama Dementia Alliance Group Dennis Frost, who lives with frontotemporal dementia said that receiving recognition for the activities of the Dementia Alliance Group and moving Kiama towards a more dementia enabling community is something that all those involved are extremely proud of.
“Experiencing the changes in social attitudes first-hand and seeing real positive differences in the lives of people living with dementia, and being able say that this is something I have helped achieve is the greatest reward.
“When people ask what is a Dementia Friendly Community, or what does it mean to you, it is difficult to answer because a Dementia Friendly Community should be a normal community.
“We should find it as engaging and as easy to live in as we did before we were diagnosed with dementia. Help and understanding should be available without having to ask,” Dennis said.
The Dementia Friendly Kiama pilot project is based on one major premise “nothing about us without us” and people living with dementia and their carers are a core part of the project.
The national program will use the same premise to support all political, business and community leaders in the establishment of more dementia-friendly communities across Australia through face-to-face and online learning and awareness.
People living with dementia and their carers have helped shape the Dementia Friendly Communities Online Resource Hub through lending their time, stories and voices to create the content for the Hub.
Ray and June Hass are just two of the many people living with dementia who have given their voices to the new national program. Ray, who cares for his wife June as she lives with her dementia diagnosis, hopes that the success of the project in Kiama will inspire others to get involved.
“June and I have the satisfaction that something is being done and we can help. As a carer I welcome the Dementia-Friendly Communities Program with all my heart,” Ray said.
Dennis said that he is excited to see the Dementia-Friendly Communities Program launched nationally later in the year and believes that it will have countless benefits to whole communities and not just those with a dementia.
“People living with dementia by virtue of being diagnosed too easily become non-people. Where once a member of the community stood, there now is only seen a stereotype of the disease, not the person,” he said.
“Australia has an opportunity to not only improve the lives of people living with dementia and their families, but to help make our society more cohesive and robust by becoming dementia aware and dementia-friendly.
“We also have an opportunity to lead the world in making our society and communities more aware and accepting of difference.”