Almost a third of Australians find people living with dementia frightening, according to a recent survey.
This week (September 18-24) is Dementia Action Week and, despite increasing awareness and dementia being the second leading cause of death, this fear and a lack of understanding about the condition leads to real-world impacts on people living with dementia.
In response, national peak body and charity Dementia Australia has called for urgent action and commitments from councils, businesses, community groups and leaders across Australia to take action to make their communities more dementia-friendly.
It is evident people and communities across the world lack an understanding of the nature and facts of dementia. A 2019 Dementia Australia global survey of almost 70,000 respondents across 155 countries revealed two-thirds of people think the disease is a normal part of ageing, rather than a medical condition.
Another survey by BMC Public Health also found Australians over 65 fear the condition the most and this fear can act as a barrier to screening or early diagnosis.
Dementia Australia Advisory Committee Chair Bobby Redman lives with dementia and said fear of those living with dementia could stem from depictions in popular culture.
“If you have this stereotype of what a person with dementia is and it’s somebody who is violent or aggressive, you’re seeing an extreme,” she said.
“However, if you know someone with dementia, you’ll realise that we’re just regular people with an illness. It’s similar to any type of discrimination or stigma – once you know people from that community, they’re no longer scary.”
Dementia Australia Chief Executive Officer Maree McCabe said more “devastating” research by the peak body also found that 80% of those with a loved one living with dementia felt that people in shops, cafes and restaurants treated people with dementia differently.
“This fear leads to stigma and discrimination which can have a real and distressing impact on people living with dementia, their families and carers. People may avoid seeking critical medical and social support and become increasingly socially isolated.
“Dementia is a largely invisible disease and what we can’t see, we don’t understand and what we don’t understand we are often afraid of and then avoid.”
But there are some things we can do to inspire communities to become more dementia-friendly.
Ms Redman said understanding and support were key to creating more caring communities that would benefit a lot of people, not just those living with dementia.
“I’d like to think that things are getting better with a greater focus from many businesses, recognising the different needs for access and inclusion of people living with invisible disabilities like dementia. If it’s good for people living with dementia, it’s good for everyone.”
Ms McCabe said there were many examples of organisations, councils and groups that had demonstrated leadership and taken simple, practical actions to make their communities more dementia-friendly through Dementia Australia’s Dementia-Friendly Communities program.
Find out how you can help make your community dementia friendly on the Dementia Australia website here.
For support, please contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 or visit dementia.org.au.