Dementia-friendly communities on their way to becoming reality

15 September 2014

A new guide to help communities become dementia-friendly, has already led to change in one NSW town, with the community of Port Macquarie coming together to make a number of small changes to improve the everyday lives of people living with dementia.

The booklet, A Guide to Becoming a Dementia-Friendly Community, developed by Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, is based on an eight-step change management model. It outlines the practical changes, including dementia awareness information sessions for local council staff and the introduction of a dementia-friendly Men’s Shed project, that the Port Macquarie community has made to move closer towards being a dementia-friendly community.

Supporting the launch of the guide, Steve Milton, Director of Innovations in Dementia in the UK, held a national lecture tour speaking about the dementia-friendly work that has evolved in the UK. Mr Milton's Australian visit was part of Dementia Awareness Month 2014 and included lectures in Kiama, Port Macquarie, Melbourne, Hobart, Brisbane, Canberra, Adelaide and Perth.

Mr Milton says that creating dementia-friendly communities in Australia will help to reduce the social isolation that too often comes with a diagnosis of dementia and said there were simple improvements that can be made in communities to make people with dementia feel more engaged in community life.

“For example: a dementia-friendly bank could have staff identified who have had dementia training and can provide a better service to people with a cognitive impairment; a dementia-friendly retail store could examine their signage and layout to ensure it is meeting the needs of people with dementia; or a dementia-friendly community group could support a volunteer and employment program for people with dementia,” Mr Milton said.

Member for Port Macquarie, Mrs Leslie Williams MP is the Chair of the Dementia-Friendly Community – Port Macquarie Steering Committee, through which the Guide to Becoming a Dementia-Friendly Community was developed and said the project has already led to permanent change in the community. 

“We’ve had great community leadership and a wide range of people working together on this project, including representatives from education, health, emergency services, Chamber of Commerce, registered clubs, Catholic Care of the Aged and more. Importantly, it has also included people with dementia and their carers," Mrs Williams said.

“Changes have already been implemented, including increasing community awareness of dementia in Port Macquarie; recommending improvements to the built environment including more shaded areas, wide and seamless footpaths, and colour contrast toilet doors in public areas through the development of the council’s Town Green and Town Square Masterplan."

Mrs Williams said a local business was also working with the committee to become a pilot dementia-friendly business and the development of a dementia-friendly community has to be driven locally.

"It must be based on local knowledge and local people and, most importantly, it must involve local people living with dementia and their carers,” Mrs Williams said.

This year’s Dementia Awareness Month theme was ‘Creating a Dementia-Friendly Nation’ with World Alzheimer’s Day on Sunday 21 September. Dementia Awareness Month 2014 is supported by financial assistance from the Australian Government and the NSW Government.