ACT News

Aussie way of life ideal for dementia-friendly communities

Australia, with its weather, way of life and friendly people, has a unique advantage to produce "dementia-friendly" communities and help those affected lead fulfilling lives, according to a visiting British expert. 

Steve Milton, a director of Innovations in Dementia in Britain, was in Canberra this week to give a talk about dementia-friendly communities on behalf of Alzheimer's Australia. 

Ted and Colleen Duff have been working with an architect to build a home designed to help Mr Duff maintain his independence.
Ted and Colleen Duff have been working with an architect to build a home designed to help Mr Duff maintain his independence. Photo: Rohan Thomson

 There were sound economic reasons for supporting people with dementia at a community level, he said. 

"If you were able to prevent people with dementia going into care homes earlier than they needed to by 12 months, we're looking at a saving of $2 billion, which is not an insignificant amount to do something that people want anyway."

Mr Milton said people were the biggest factor in dementia-friendly communities. 

"From my observations, there are a number of pretty unique things about Australia and Australians that give you a head start in terms of producing dementia-friendly communities," he said. 


"Your weather is better and you are outdoors more and more of your life takes place at a communal level outdoors. The Australian character would appear to me to be more open and straight forward, so ... you're more likely to talk to each other and that makes a huge difference." 

Being able to live an independent life, despite a dementia diagnosis, is something Jerrabomberra couple Ted and Colleen Duff easily appreciate. 

Mr Duff was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2012 at the age of 68 and the couple have been working with an architect to build a home designed to help him maintain his independence. 

Mrs Duff said the couple had not been able to find exactly what they wanted, so they decided to build. 

"This way, we're getting something we both love," she said.

"The whole idea is about a simple, sustainable house that's easy to clean and maintain. It's really gives us a lovely environment within a garden, because I love gardening and we had to give up our farm because of Teddy's condition." 

Mrs Duff said the single-storey three-bedroom, two-bathroom home had been designed to allow for wheelchair access, should the need arise, and featured open-plan living and a "risk-free" kitchen. It had also been designed to cater for their interests, such as gardening and an activity room for Mr Duff. 

Location was important and they decided to build in the Googong township, as it would allow Mr Duff to continue his daily exercise regime and enable them to stay socially active, while being close to medical practitioners.

"It's given us some hope and excitement to look at really improving our lifestyle and probably given us some confidence," Mrs Duff said. 

Alzheimer's Australia national president Graeme Samuel said it was important to help people with dementia sustain their independence, dignity and sense of community. 

Mr Milton said access to public transport, ensuring environments were easily accessible to people with dementia and things such as Australia's many sports clubs were important factors in helping those affected overcome barriers such as social isolation and stigma.  

He said it would be a missed opportunity if Australia did not take advantage of its strengths to create dementia-friendly communities. 

"The most important aspect of any dementia-friendly community are the people you encounter within it," he said. 

"I get the impression you are, as a nation, more open and more friendly, so why not work with your strengths?"