By Tess Macallan, Journalist, Council Magazine

Local governments have a responsibility to ensure public facilities and communities are safe for people living with dementia. Here Council Magazine unpacks why these initiatives are so important, highlighting the efforts of two Australian Councils in creating dementia-friendly communities.

Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe over 100 neurological conditions which cause significant cognitive and functional disability. Dementia is more than memory loss, it can impair perception, executive function, facial recognition, motor function and more.

More than two thirds of aged care residents have moderate to severe cognitive impairment, while 66 per cent of people with dementia are thought to be living in the community. However, Dementia Australia’s Dementia-Friendly Communities National Manager, Belinda Curtis, said that research shows that many Australians still lack awareness and understanding about dementia.

“This can have widespread repercussions,” Ms Curtis said. “It may result in people with dementia, their family and carers experiencing stigma and discrimination in a wide range of settings from home, community and retail spaces to the health care sector.”

Engaging at a local level

As the majority of people with dementia live in the community, every council in Australia will come into contact with people who have dementia, their families or carers. These individuals may be paying rates, having their rubbish collected, working in local businesses or using council services.

“Local governments play a critical role in encouraging inclusivity, respecting the rights of people with dementia and facilitating access to the services, supports, activities and spaces to which every Australian is entitled,” Ms Curtis said. “People living with dementia who are supported to live well in the community are more likely to stay in their homes longer and are less likely to enter residential aged care prematurely.”

Ms Curtis said it is important that local governments make all of their programs and services inclusive and accessible to people with dementia. “Consultations with people living with dementia, their families and carers is a good place to start to uncover which services and programs are most impactful for them.”

National and international experience shows that successful dementia-friendly communities also typically include consultation with the broader population of the local community, service providers, businesses and council staff.

Other steps may include establishing a local alliance of individuals willing to champion change or creating an action plan with achievable, measurable goals for change, regardless of whether they are small and specific, or big and systemic.

Dementia-friendly communities might focus on creating social, sporting or community groups that self-define as welcoming people with dementia or volunteer or paid employment opportunities for people with dementia. There may also be informal community events or activities where people feel welcomed and accepted and are able to remain socially active.

Dementia-safe spaces: City of Melbourne

Creating dementia-friendly communities can also involve utilising dementia-friendly design principles in public spaces. This could mean ensuring furniture is unambiguous, using high-contrast colours for clarity, maintaining consistency in lighting levels, clear signage and the inclusion of ‘quiet spaces’.

The City of Melbourne, in partnership with Dementia Australia, has been working towards making the Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre dementia-friendly. Applying these principles in the planned activity rooms, access areas and toilets has improved access and participation for people with dementia.

Some of the changes have included:

∞ Flooring that is a contrasting colour to the furniture and walls
∞ Room signage that includes colour contrast text and symbols
∞ Acoustic ceiling tiles to absorb sound within the interior
∞ A non-patterned floor covering
∞ High quality lighting to limit dark shadows
∞ A coloured toilet seat that contrasts with the toilet
∞ A sensory garden with scented plants with tactile foliage and flowers

Raising awareness: Northern Beaches council

It is estimated that there are over 8,000 people living with dementia within the Northern Beaches, with 70 per cent living in their homes and the community. By the year 2058, it is projected that the prevalence of dementia in the LGA will increase by approximately 150 per cent.

Northern Beaches Mayor, Sue Heins, said, “This means dementia is likely to have a bigger impact on our area as the proportion of residents aged 65+ is greater than other parts of Sydney. “We want the Northern Beaches to be a place where people with dementia can continue to participate fully in community life.”

Council signed a Dementia-Friendly Statement of Commitment with Dementia Australia in May 2021 and worked closely with the Northern Beaches Dementia Alliance and Advisory Group to develop Council’s Dementia-Friendly Organisation Plan.

To date, as part of this plan, Council has supported the Northern Beaches Dementia Alliance to host information sessions and workshops about dementia, including creating a “how to communicate well with people living with dementia” information card that was widely distributed to local businesses, and helped set up a website that has local information for residents about services and programs.

Ms Curtis said that building positive attitudes towards people with dementia involves raising community awareness, and at the same time reducing the stigma and discrimination that people with dementia often experience. The easiest and most effective way to do this is through free staff and public education.

Dementia Australia offers online and face-to-face programs that are designed to raise awareness among staff and community members. It also provides professional dementia education for customer-facing staff as part of its Centre for Dementia Learning.

As part of its Dementia Friendly Organisation plan, Northern Beaches Council now has 700 staff trained in Dementia Australia’s ‘Become a Dementia Friend’ module.

This module is now included in the new starter induction for all new employees and will be continued to be rolled out to increase dementia awareness among staff. Further face-to-face dementia-friendly training was provided to 104 customer facing staff.

Council has also conducted an audit of identified priority Council facilities with recommendations on how to make these spaces more dementia friendly.

The Northern Beaches libraries team has been working hard to ensure its libraries are Dementia Friendly spaces. Mona Vale is the LGA’s Dementia Friendly flagship library, featuring a dementia-friendly collection and dementia-friendly space.

Council was involved in delivering a Dementia Expo at Dee Why RSL on 4 May 2023. Hosted by the Northern Beaches Dementia Alliance, the event sought to connect the public to support services and programs in the local area.

While no two dementia-friendly communities will look the same, in a broad sense, they are places in which a person with dementia is supported to live a high-quality life with meaning, purpose and value.

Local governments can take inspiration from some of the initiatives that have been implemented in Australia to develop their own approaches for creating inclusive communities that don’t leave those with dementia behind.

1 Comment
  1. Sistem Informasi 8 months ago

    Who are the key contributors and editors responsible for producing content for the Council Magazine, and what expertise do they bring to the publication?

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