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September sets its sights on dementia awareness

Australians are being asked to come together to raise awareness and show support for the more than 425,000 people living with dementia across the nation as part Dementia Awareness Month.

September is Dementia Awareness Month throughout Australia (Source: Shutterstock)
September is Dementia Awareness Month throughout Australia (Source: Shutterstock)

Running from 1-30 September, the annual event, developed by Dementia Australia, works to encourage all Australians to get involved with the national awareness-raising campaign and help improve the lives of people living with dementia, their families and carers.

Dementia Australia Chief Executive Officer Maree McCabe says this year’s event focuses on the theme ‘small actions, big difference’.

“This September, during Dementia Awareness Month, we will be highlighting the small actions people can take to create a big difference for people living with dementia, their families and carers,” she explains.

“Dementia is the second leading cause of death of all Australians, contributing to 5.4 percent of all deaths in males, and 10.6 percent of all deaths in females each year.

“It is the leading cause of death among females in Australia and it is currently estimated that 250 people are joining the population with dementia each day.”

Ms McCabe says that with statistics like this, having a month to dedicate to dementia awareness is needed and helps ensure other members of the community are able to make a positive difference to people living with dementia. With many living with the condition sometimes finding it challenging to participate actively in the community due, in part, to a lack of knowledge or understanding of the condition among the general public.

As one of the many Australians who has, or is, caring for a loved on with dementia, South Australian Maureen Fenton-Sires knows all too well how important awareness around this growing issue is.

Mrs Fenton-Sires cared for her mother during her dementia diagnosis for a number of years within her own home, before making the tough decision to move her to a purpose-built dementia wing in a local nursing home.

She says an awareness month is great not only for the community to provide better support, but also to those who are or will be going through dementia themselves or by the side of a loved one.

“I was aware of dementia before my mum was diagnosed due to having worked in the health industry with aged care,” she says.

“Having said that, it still doesn’t prepare you for experiencing and accepting that your parent has this diagnosis.

“I think as a carer being more aware of dementia enables you to be more prepared for what to expect - like the behaviours - and to know what supports are readily available to you.

“Even for mum, she knew about dementia because when she was younger she worked as a nurses aide with dementia patients, however this was back in the 60s before even the health professionals were better educated on the care of patients suffering from this condition.

“Today, people are treated more holistically and compassionately but I still would absolutely encourage more people to be involved and learn about dementia - especially before even thinking about caring for their loved one at home.

“I thought because I was a nurse who looked after patients with dementia that it would be a walk in the park, but I was able to walk away from challenging behaviours after eight hours, but with a loved one you are with them 24/7.

“Even with all the knowledge I had through my nursing experience, I honestly don’t think it fully prepared me for looking after someone at home with dementia.”

One of the big ways Dementia Australia is encouraging all Australians to be involved in Dementia Awareness Month is through registering to become a Dementia Friend.

Ms McCabe says the program, also run by Dementia Australia, aims to transform the way the community think, act and talk about dementia, their carers and families, through increased awareness and support.

“All members of the community, businesses, organisations and clubs are encouraged to participate in making a difference to the lives of Australians living with dementia, their families and carers,” she says.

“With our Dementia Friends program available at most events across Australia during Dementia Awareness Month, we are providing an opportunity for everyone to empower themselves with more knowledge and increased understanding about dementia so they can learn how small actions can make a big difference to the lives of people living with dementia.”

National aged care peak body Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) is just one group who has shown its commitment to better support people with dementia, with every LASA staff member completing the Dementia Friend training program.

LASA CEO Sean Rooney says the organisations staff want to make a positive difference in the lives of people living with dementia through building increased awareness and support, and says with all LASA staff becoming Dementia Friends, they can help tackle social isolation and stigma through education and awareness.

“As certified Dementia Friends our staff now have an improved understanding of dementia and we are better able to support people with dementia both in our professional roles, as well as our personal lives,” Mr Rooney says.

“I am very proud of all LASA staff for embracing the ‘Dementia Friend’ initiative.

“It is hoped our commitment also inspires others to get involved.”

During Dementia Awareness Month, there will also be other ways for people to get involved with a number of events being held across the country, including Dementia Australia’s ‘small actions big difference’ roadshow.

A full list of Dementia Awareness Month events and more information about the initiative is available online.

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