28 April 2016

Dementia friendly communities: the importance of recognising the rights of dementia patients

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It’s hard to be believe it’s been almost 30 years since my Grandfather was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I can still remember the sign, masking taped onto the back of his bathrobe, ‘if found, return to ward 5B’. I thought it was awful that my vibrant, sports-mad Grandfather was left to spend the remainder of his years tied to a chair for his own safety and protection. It still feels like yesterday and I can still smell the scents of the nursing home if I think of those days.

Alzheimer and dementia treatment has come a long way since then. While the end-of-cycle care is most likely the same, the treatments available are allowing people with Alzheimer’s to live longer, and more fulfilling lives.

In the same way as any other person with a disability, we should be supported to remain independent in our communities for as long as possible.”

Dementia is the single greatest cause of disability in Australian’s aged 65 years or over, with total direct expenditure to the health and aged care sector totalling $4.3 billion in the year 2009-10. Health and residential aged care spending is projected to surpass $83 billion per annum by 2060.

According to Alzheimer’s Australia, there are more than 353,800 Australian’s living with dementia and the number is expected to surpass 400,000 in less than 5 years. Statistics also show there are over 25,000 people in Australia living with Younger Onset Dementia (diagnosis under the age of 65).

In recent years, there has been a move away from traditional methods of care for people living with dementia, and the creation of Dementia Friendly Communities has captured the attention and imagination of consumers, policy makers, and researchers across the world. 

The importance of the concept of dementia friendly communities fits with the needs of our human rights and disability rights to be recognised,” Kate Swaffer from Dementia Alliance International said in a recent report. “In the same way as any other person with a disability, we should be supported to remain independent in our communities for as long as possible.”

One of the most well-known examples of a dementia friendly community is the Alzheimer Café in the Netherlands. Founded in 1997, the Alzheimer’s Café has become one of the most easily transferrable programme models used in many countries around the world.

The Alzheimer’s Café’s main aim is to provide a welcoming and friendly atmosphere in an accessible location for all people with or affected by dementia. There are now 230 Alzheimer’s Cafés run around the world by volunteers, attracting over 35,000 visitors a year. In order to support cultural situations the Alzheimer’s Tea Houses have also been introduced for those whose first language is Moroccan or Turkish.

Closer to home, Men’s Sheds was developed to provide men with a work-like setting where they could go to meet others and take part in technical and craft activities. The name came from the Australian tradition of men having a garden shed. The initiative shares many of the same aims as dementia friendly communities including reducing isolation, loneliness and depression in dementia patients.

Trial research and programmes underway in Kiama and Port Macquarie are further exploring the impact of Dementia Friendly Communities in Australia.

Dementia can be an isolating illness, not only for the patients but the families and carers as well. Dementia friendly communities provide a life line out of the isolation and fear that many family and patients find themselves living with.  Ensuring as a high a quality of life as possible for people living with dementia, guarantees them their dignity and humanity for as long as possible.

Mike Cullen has recently returned to Akolade after a period as the conference producer for one of Australia's leading economic think tanks. Mike began working in the conference industry in 2007 after looking for a career change from the high pressured world of inbound customer service. Mike has worked for some of the most well-known conference and media companies in the B2B space and in his spare time is working on his first novel in a planned Epic Fantasy trilogy.

Mike’s most recently published story, Seeds of Eden, is featured in the Sproutlings Anthology released in March 2016.

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