Consumer peak body Dementia Australia has this week called on the Australian Government to commit to ongoing funding for a national dementia awareness and engagement initiative.

Dementia Australia CEO Maree McCabe told a Parliamentary Friends of Dementia webinar on Wednesday the Dementia-Friendly Communities program would end in June 2022 without further funding.

The program was established in 2016 with funding from the Federal Government to empower and support individuals and communities to undertake initiatives to improve knowledge and awareness about dementia.

It also aims to reduce stigma and discrimination and promote social engagement.

Since the program’s launch, it has made people living with dementia feel part of their community, valued and have a sense of purpose and belonging, Ms McCabe said.

“We are here today to call on the government to recognise the significance of the program and for both parties to commit to ongoing funding of the program so we can continue to make a difference to the lives of people impacted by dementia,” Ms McCabe told the webinar.

“To put the importance of this program into perspective – dementia is one of the largest health and social challenges facing Australia and the world. It is estimated that there are up to 472,000 Australians living with dementia in 2021 and around 1.6 million people involved in their care.

“Now without a significant breakthrough, by 2058 there will be almost 1.1 million Australians living with dementia, and there just won’t be anyone that is not impacted in some way,” Ms McCabe said.

“The program is essential to supporting dementia-friendly communities Australia-wide,” she said.

Maree McCabe speaking at the Parliamentary Friends of Dementia webinar

Ms McCabe also launched a discussion paper on the importance Dementia-Friendly Communities play in improving dementia knowledge, facilitating inclusivity and reducing stigma and discrimination in the community.

The paper, Support. Encourage. Empower. Leading the way towards a Dementia-Friendly Community, includes eight case studies highlighting the diverse range and scale of dementia-friendly initiatives.

Among them is the Reminiscing Garden in the City of Casey in Victoria developed by Australian-Filipino Community Services in collaboration with the local Samoan and Tamil communities.

It aims to support people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds living with dementia, and their families and carers.

Outcomes for visitors include an increase in knowledge and understanding about dementia, a greater willingness to share stories about living with the disease and improved awareness and preparedness to access support services, the paper said.

Program to guide royal commission recommendations

Richard Colbeck speaking at the Parliamentary Friends of Dementia webinar

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck also appeared at the webinar to commend the success of the program.

“It’s… programs such as this that have been operating over the last few years and clearly building some momentum that starts to change some of the broader community perspectives in relation to dementia,” Mr Colbeck said.

“Programs such as this that can build a better understanding, provide capacity for community to support people with dementia better is going to be really important and the structures that we’re building off the back of the royal commission in the context of advocacy will certainly be taking note of the voice of people with a dementia diagnosis,” he said.

Program supports the community

Juanita Hughes speaking at the Parliamentary Friends of Dementia webinar

The webinar also heard from dementia advocate Juanita Hughes, who has been diagnosed with young onset early-stage Behavioural Variant Frontotemporal dementia.

Ms Hughes said dementia-friendly communities promoted inclusion and purposeful engagement for people living with dementia in their communities.

“I feel very strongly about this; to challenge the stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with dementia and their carers,” Ms Hughes told the webinar.

“Seventy per cent of people living with dementia still live within our communities and if we are given the necessary support, we still have a lot to contribute,” she said.

Access the discussion paper

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