Eliminating the stigma that surrounds dementia is at the heart of a push to make the Hastings community more inclusive for many older people.
The state electorate of Port Macquarie has the second highest prevalence in NSW of individuals diagnosed with the condition.
That's set to grow further as Australian society faces up to dementia as the number two cause of death behind heart disease.
If that's sobering news, it's not all negative. With the right support, planning and a healthy lifestyle people can live a significantly higher quality of life. This includes incorporating dementia friendly principles into design and service delivery in our community can make a huge difference in the lives of people living with dementia and their family carers.
The Port Macquarie-based Dementia Friendly Community (DFC) steering committee is leading the charge to shift society's perception.
Among its members are Cherie Strudwick, whose partner Peter was diagnosed with younger onset dementia several years ago. She would like to see better understanding within the community.
"In the early stages of dementia they know people are looking at them strangely, they know it," she says.
"For them to know that is really hurtful. It closes them down.
"I'd like to see more education around dementia and to dispel the stigma that exists of dementia taking away one's faculties. It doesn't.
"You lose some, of course, but with appropriate support you can still lead a fulfilling life."
Established in 2012, DFC was funded by Dementia Australia (DA). The local committee currently includes representatives from DA, Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, the health and business sectors, and local specialist dementia support provider Omnicare, as well as a former dementia consultant.
DFC steering committee hosted a consultation session at one of Omnicare's Social Support centres in Port Macquarie last year. Among the ideas from clients living with dementia were citizen science, a choir, volunteering opportunities and inter-generational initiatives involving schools and preschools.
"As a progressive, collaborative community organisation, we're honoured and proud to be part of the DFC and keen to contribute towards its aims," Omnicare's Kaye Lilley says.
The committee is also working to raise awareness and promote education within the commercial sector, with the aim of highlighting dementia-friendly businesses and services.
"There's a lot you can do to make our community more inclusive for people living with dementia and their carers," Ms Strudwick says.
"Money's not such a big factor, it's about challenging perceptions and changing people's outlooks - and that needs to start at the grassroots."
DFC is keen to involve more people at its monthly meetings, particularly individuals living with dementia and carers. The Wednesday, February 26 meeting will run from 8.30am until 10am.
For further information, contact Kaye Lilley at Omnicare, on (02) 6584 1115, or Dementia Australia on (02) 6584 7444.
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