Support, encourage, empower: Leading the way towards a dementia friendly community in Australia

In this blog from Maree McCabe, CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree writes about the organisation's dementia friendly communities programme and how people living with dementia are spearheading its success.

Friendliness, alongside awareness raising, are two key tenets of action area 2 of the WHO Global action plan on dementia. Awareness raising and challenging stigma are still major barriers to progress globally. Dementia friendliness and dementia friendly communities should never be underestimated in terms of their importance, both in themselves and in the job they do in raising awareness and helping to tackle stigma.
In this blog from Maree McCabe AM, CEO of Dementia Australia, Maree outlines the fundamental need for dementia friendly communities and its wide-reaching power to enact change at all levels, whether through supporting people living with dementia to continue leading independent lives or breaking down existing stigmatic ideas around dementia.
It is extremely timely as ADI pushes on with its #WhatsYourPlan campaign, directed at governments around the world to come good on their commitment to develop national dementia plans, including strategies and programmes to tackle action area 2, friendliness and awareness.

Dementia Australia’s Dementia-Friendly Communities programme plays an important role in empowering and supporting individuals and communities to undertake initiatives to improve knowledge and awareness about dementia, reduce stigma and discrimination and promote social engagement.

The Dementia-Friendly Communities concept has been embraced and developed on a global scale over the last decade. Dementia Australia’s award-winning programme supports alliances, organisations and initiatives in every state and territory across the country in varying stages of development. There are currently:

• Nearly 33,000 Dementia Friends
• 56 alliances
• 64 Dementia-Friendly Organisations
• Nearly 120 Dementia Friends hosts and 40 on the waiting list
• Nearly 25 Community Engagement Programme projects

Given the demonstrable success of the Dementia-Friendly Communities programme, Dementia Australia recently released a discussion paper calling on the Australian Government and the opposition political parties to commit to recurring funding to ensure the growth, development and sustainability of current and future Dementia-Friendly Communities initiatives.

The programme’s success is based on the central role that people living with dementia play in all programme tiers, from the establishment of alliances and development of action plans, through to awareness raising activities and implementation of grassroots dementia–friendly change initiatives.

John Quinn and Glenys Petrie of Brisbane South-East Dementia Alliance.

One of these success stories is the Brisbane South-East Dementia Alliance, founded by John Quinn and Glenys Petrie in the state of Queensland. John is a husband, father and has nine grandchildren. After retiring prematurely due to his condition, it was two challenging years before he was diagnosed with the familial type of Alzheimer’s disease. John was 59 years old. John and his wife, Glenys, downsized to a unit in Wynnum. Although this gave them better access to services and a simpler lifestyle, John struggled with his diagnosis.

Glenys said: “John had been a very social person but he quickly became depressed and spent the next four years looking at four walls. I knew he wasn’t in a healthy space. What began as a way for John to connect with his new community, quickly evolved into a nascent dementia-friendly community.

The increasingly active dementia-friendly movement in Australia continues to be driven primarily by the rigorously developed and successfully implemented Dementia Australia Dementia-Friendly Communities programme. The Alliance has gone from hosting the first of their popular dementia forums in 2019, to today working with Brisbane City Council and major cultural institutions to inspire them to become dementia-friendly.

In an exciting recent development, Brisbane City Council, Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, Iona College, and University of Queensland’s Healthy Living Centre and Art Museum have made a combined commitment to a dementia-friendly Brisbane strategy, aligning with the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Dementia-Friendly Communities programme team is committed to continue to work towards an inclusive community because a community that is dementia-friendly is simply a community that is good for everyone.

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