By Keryn Curtis
Alzheimer’s Australia is calling for every local government across Australia to make their towns and cities dementia friendly as part of a new campaign launched at the Alzheimer’s Australia 15th National Conference in Hobart yesterday.
Officially launched by 2013 Australian of the Year and Alzheimer’s Australia President, Ita Buttrose, the paper, Dementia Friendly Societies: The Way Forward, sets out a challenge for Australia to explore the adoption of a similar approach to the one taken in 2012 in the United Kingdom by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Ms Buttrose said the aim of the campaign was to combat negative attitudes about dementia and ensure the rights of people living with dementia are protected.
“Australia needs to follow the lead of other countries in developing dementia friendly societies,” Ms Buttrose said.
“We must reflect on how people with dementia live their lives and how we can develop a more inclusive society.”
Initiatives in the UK program include elements such as training staff in organisations in the retail sector, in financial services, emergency services, utility companies and transport providers to recognise and better respond to the needs of customers with dementia.
It also includes establishing networks of ‘dementia champions’ throughout the country who can educate people in local communities via workplaces, clubs, services and town halls across the UK. The scheme aims to train one million people as dementia champions by 2015.
Other elements target school children and young people, dementia friendly physical environments and hospitals and health services.
A coordinated national approach
The report says that while Australia has a number of initiatives that aim to create an inclusive physical and social environment for people with dementia, they are generally limited to single communities and often supported by one-off funding.
Instead the report advocates a similar approach to the World Health Organisation’s age friendly cities program, the principles of which, the report says, do not necessarily address the key issues for people with dementia.
The report says Australia could undertake a similar process to that undertaken in the UK to develop a flexible set of guidelines and standards for dementia friendly communities and organisations that could be adapted for different communities and settings. Like the UK program, this should also include the deployment of a specially developed symbol to denote communities that are working towards becoming dementia friendly.
A pilot program conducted by Ballarat Health Services in Victoria using a Cognitive Impairment Identifier (CII) symbol to identify people with cognitive impairment in hospitals, in tandem with training and education for staff, was successful in improving quality of care and outcomes for people with dementia and their families.
The concept has also been widely supported by consumers who, according to a separate report, Cognitive impairment symbol: creating dementia friendly organisations, envisage that the symbol could be used in two key ways – “to identify dementia friendly services or staff and also to identify a person who has a cognitive impairment as requiring additional support.”
Alzheimer’s Australia says it believes it is now time to launch the symbol nationally.
Subject to support and funding, the organisation will take the project forward, initially by seeking a partnership with the Australian Local Government Association to identify cities and towns that are prepared to consider and develop an approach for their local community. Alzheimer's Australia will also host an international speaker from the UK to conduct a lecture tour to discuss the UK experience.
“It is a challenge to all of us," said Ms Buttrose to develop a more inclusive society to ensure people with dementia are included and involved. All of us must become advocates and better communicators."
For more health and ageing policy news, visit Australian Ageing Agenda.
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