Why we need dementia friendly communities in the Myall Lakes electorate

The Myall Lakes electorate has the largest number of people living with dementia in all of NSW, and the numbers are set to climb dramatically over the coming years as Australia’s population ages.

In our electorate currently there are 2289 people living with dementia. This figure is expected to increase to an estimated 2850 people by 2025 and 4700 by 2056.

As life expectancy increases and baby boomers are becoming elderly, the rate of prevalence of dementia will rise along with the numbers of people ageing.

This means more and more people in our communities will have dementia or be caring for people with dementia.

People living with dementia and their carers are often isolated and face discrimination and social stigma.

The Dementia-Friendly Guide, 2014, produced by Alzheimer’s Australia includes a foreword written by a man living with dementia, Graeme Atkins. 

He says his experience is that he was ignored, he lost friends and was treated with disrespect. He felt he could not participate in his local community.

Our quality of life is really influenced by a sense of self-worth and by being connected with the community, but the stigma associated with dementia can lead to loneliness and feeling that we aren't welcome anymore. - Graeme Atkins

Graeme wrote that feedback from people with dementia and their carers show the barriers they face as:

  • Physical environments – poor signage, lack of seating in public areas and unhelpful public transport staff.
  • Social environments and inclusiveness – business and services staff who are not helpful, and negative community attitudes.
  • Health and community support – health staff not knowing about dementia and treating people with disrespect.

Local organisations including sporting organisations, businesses, groups and individuals can all help make their communities dementia friendly. 

Port Macquarie, third on the list of communities with the largest rates of dementia, has been working on becoming dementia friendly since 2013.

John Watkins AM, CEO of Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, says that Port Macquarie is leading Australia in becoming dementia-friendly.

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Now Forster Tuncurry, and the Taree and Wingham communities, are following suit, spearheaded by Member for Myall Lakes, Stephen Bromhead. 

What is a dementia friendly community?

A dementia friendly community can be described as:

“A city, town or village where people with dementia are understood, respected and supported, and confident they can contribute to community life. In a dementia friendly community people will be aware of and understand dementia, and people with dementia will feel included and involved, and have choice and control over their day-to-day lives.”

(Alzheimer’s Society, 2013).

Steering committees were formed in Forster Tuncurry, and Taree/Wingham in 2016 to start the process of becoming dementia friendly communities. 

On Monday, September 4 they officially launched their commitment to the initiative, recognised local businesses who are already dementia friendly, and are working toward continued momentum.

Mr Bromhead asked the people present to start honest discussions with local businesses and community leaders, to get people talking, and to ask more businesses and community organisations to become accredited.

Becoming dementia friendly is a simple process and there is no money involved. To find out more about becoming accredited contact Stephen Bromhead on 6555 4099.

What you may not know about dementia

Dementia is a fatal progressive disease of the brain. 

It is the second biggest killer of Australians after heart disease.

A common perception about dementia is that is about one thing – memory loss. While Alzheimer’s is very much about memory loss, there are around 100 types of dementia, and some forms do not have impaired memory as a symptom.

For instance, some people with dementia have very clear memories, but their behaviour might change; they might display inappropriate behaviours.

People with dementia need our understanding and our patience, not our fear and judgement.

To learn more about dementia and available support, visit www.fightdementia.org.au.

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