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Putting Age Friendly Principles into Practice - 5b Including People with Dementia


Image Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

As it happens, September is Dementia Awareness Month in Australia and World Alzheimer’s Month in other parts of the World. There is also a special World Alzheimer’s Day on September  Dementia is the blanket term for several forms of progressive cognitive decline, but Alzheimer’s Disease, itself representing at least three different conditions, accounts for about 60 – 80% of cases, so the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, neither is an inevitable consequence of ageing.

In either case, Dementia is a growing problem around the world and is already the world’s 7th leading cause of death. According to  Alzheimer’s International approximately 55 million people suffer from Dementia today with that number expected to rise to around 139 million by 2050. Apart from Climate Change, this is likely to become one of the biggest challenges societies will face in future. 

The aim of such commemorative events is to raise awareness about these conditions, to recognise the symptoms in order to obtain an early diagnosis because in the early stages, progression can be slowed if not halted, and to call for greater understanding for those affected. It’s not just about being kind. It is a human right that all people, regardless of age, disability or cognitive ability, be treated equally. For those who are diagnosed with such conditions, there is a great deal of help and support -almost every country has some type of organisation which will help. You can see a list at the end of this post. However, there are also other movements under way such as Dementia Friends and Dementia Cities, so I will talk about some of those here. Scotland even has a Dementia -friendly National Park.

Recognising the Early Signs


Note: Just because you have once again forgotten where you put your glasses or car keys doesn’t necessarily mean that you are on the road to irreversible decline. As you can see from the  above video there are also other diseases which need to be eliminated before a definite diagnosis can be made and Hey, even if that does happen, it doesn’t mean that you can’t live a good life, especially with a little help from others. In the early stages, progress can be slowed with medication and symptoms can certainly be alleviated. Click here for more about recognising early symptoms

Here's a little clip about why we shouldn’t discriminate against people with Dementia



Dementia Friends

Japan already had 4.6 million people with dementia  in 2013. It responded by starting its Dementia Friends program in 2004 with a nationwide caravan to train volunteers, raise awareness and support people with dementia living in the community by teaching people in schools in schools, offices and other community settings to recognise the symptoms, about diagnosis and treatment and how to effectively help people. Today there are Dementia Friends in 67 cities including two in the USA  and there are 19 million friends around the world, 11 million of them in Japan.

Dementia – friendly cities

The city of  Bruges in Belgium was one of Europe’s world’s first dementia -friendly cities, producing information booklets, recruiting 90 businesses and conducting staff training sessions for them. They have a sign of red knotted handkerchief in the window to indicate that they will be patient, compassionate and willing to help, and an army of volunteers to help keep tabs on visitors. It’s about keeping people safe, being inclusive and reducing the stigma about this condition.

Dementia -friendly cities now exist in over 40 countries and also include cafes, malls and co -operative businesses. The UK also has several and the city of York even has a dementia – friendly station. Bus drivers in Northumbria are trained to recognise people with dementia and how to respond to them and we’ve already talked about the British Transport Police under mobility.

Below is a short video by a member of Victoria Police force with first -hand experience of having a family member with dementia, talking about the way to approach someone living with dementia. There's also a longer one here.

Speaking with my local police, they say having a tracking device is the easiest and quickest way to locate someone who gets lostst. I haven’t found much on this topic other than Project Lifesaver which uses satellite technology and has trained volunteers in place to bring wanderers home – and they aren’t just seniors. Unfortunately, while they seem to be very big in the USA, they seem to be few and far between elsewhere. It would be best to speak to your local Dementia support group - see the International listings at the end of the post, as they are sure to be able to give you the best advice for your area.

Dementia Cafes

Dementia cafés like the one in Melville (earlier post) were started by a Dutch psychologist in 1997and were found to have a positive effect because they enable dementia sufferers and their carers to socialise. This is because isolation tends to hasten decline. Dementia cafés have since taken off around the world too.

More Help for Carers

Looking after carers is very important. Looking after others is not only very demanding but often leads to carers being unable to look after their own needs which in turn leads to stress, social isolation and burnout.

 Many places have Day Care and longer Respite Care – ask your nearest help centre (below) and other activities to provide some relief for carers. China, which has 11 million dementia sufferers, most of whom are cared for at home, is working hard to establish community care centres, both to relieve the burden on hospitals and to make them more accessible to people with dementia. The Chinese government is also collaborating with an Australian university to improve help for carers at home and to make to make self -help support available to the many people of Chinese origin now living in Australia.

There is also a huge range of resources online to help those caring for people with dementia at home, many of them in other languages. In this context I want to mention the excellent series of  free CareBlazer videos by Geropsychologist, Natalie Edmonds PsD ABPP. Each one is very short but deals with specific problems and behaviours which might be encountered. Most of the places listed at the end of the post will also be able to help. Alzheimer's org UK  for example has  excellent ideas for activities which can easily be done at home.

NB: Alzheimer's UK warn against buying expensive commercial products which claim to halt or reverse dementia. Yes, they say, brain training is generally a good thing – think Sudoku, Crosswords, puzzles etc. and by all means do them for enjoyment -but the data is not yet in as far as claims for many expensive offerings go.

Organisations which can help

INTERNATIONAL: Alzheimer’s International

Umbrella organisation for around 120 different countries, in many languages too

AUSTRALIA:    Dementia Australia                                        1800 100 500

                            Helpline, free info kit, Email support    

EU Countries :  Alzheimer's Europe                

UK:                   Alzheimer's UK                                     

SCOTLAND:  Alzheimer's Scotland                     

                        24-hour helpline,  and 22 resource centres

 CANADA:    Alzheimer’s Society  

                       Also has information in Hindi, Mandarin and Cantonese

USA:            Alzheimer’s Association  


NEXT: Overcoming Ageism  and Discrimination against Older People