ALMOST a third of Australians find people living with dementia frightening, according to a recent survey.
In response, national peak body Dementia Australia has called for urgent action and commitments to take decisive action and be the change that makes their communities more dementia friendly.
This week 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.
Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe said she was alarmed by the results of successive surveys showing 32 per cent of Australians found people living with dementia frightening, a major increase from 23 per cent a decade ago.
“There is also research, commissioned by Dementia Australia, showing that 80 per cent of those with a loved one living with dementia felt that people in shops, cafes and restaurants treated people with dementia differently,” she said.
“These are our parents, grandparents, friends and neighbours now and in the future, it could be anyone reading this who might be diagnosed with dementia.
“These are devastating findings. 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.”
Dementia Australia Advisory Chair Bobby Redman, who lives with dementia, 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,” Ms Redman said.
“However, if you know someone with dementia, you’ll realise that we’re just regular people with an illness.
It’s like any type of discrimination or stigma – once you know people from that community, they’re no longer scary.”
With an estimated 400,000 Australians currently living with dementia – an estimated 70 per cent of whom live in the community – Ms McCabe said the impact was being felt by families across the country and we must act now – and we all can all take some action.
“The good news is, there are so many simple things we can do every day to change this,” she said.
“We have the resources and information freely available on our website for anyone to make a start.
“We must act now for a dementia-friendly future. After all, a dementia-friendly future is one that is better for everyone in the community.”
Ms McCabe said there were many examples of organisations which had already demonstrated leadership to make their communities more dementia friendly.