More Australians becoming Dementia Friends means more people who are beginning to understand what dementia means, what the impact is on families, on children, parents and grandparents.
Over 425,000 Australians are now living with dementia and around 1,700 more are becoming affected each week.
I choose to be a Dementia Friend because dementia is a multi-faceted mystery that can be devastating and will almost certainly affect every one of us in some way.
The initiative is about being the best prepared and the most supportive we can be, about understanding the need to protect and care for those among us who are increasingly vulnerable.
In the time I’ve worked in the dementia area – with its great champions, including Ita Buttrose, Maree McCabe and Rhonda Parker – there has been growing appreciation of the importance of both understanding and taking a stand, to become powerful allies for those in our community who find themselves on the journey of dementia.
Recently, I welcomed The Veronicas – twin singers Lisa and Jessica – to a Parliamentary event in Canberra. Already Dementia Friends, they went public with their heartfelt decision to become Dementia Australia ambassadors.
Their role as young advocates will be a very powerful one, inspired by their mother’s ongoing dementia journey. Their knowledge, and the experiences of many other families, makes us realise the impact of something we cannot easily comprehend or explain.
The bonds and support network they have developed while caring for their mum and being there for her, is part of a collective strength I want to see grow rapidly across our nation.
It is important we realise that people living with dementia don’t stop learning. They do not stop hearing the conversations around them. They do not stop wanting to be loved and helped. All of us, as Dementia Friends, need to take these facts on board and make them part of our mantra.
Dementia is our second most common cause of death, claiming the lives of more than 13,000 Australians each year. Among women, it’s now the leading cause of death.
Dementia particularly affects people as they age, with three in 10 people over the age of 85 and almost one in 10 people over 65 having the condition. It is critical we find effective preventions and cures, otherwise we can expect 1.1 million Australians to have dementia by the middle of this century, meaning more than 600 people a day will be at risk of developing the disease.
Since 2015, the Turnbull Government’s $200 million Boosting Dementia Research Initiative has funded and developed a series of potentially world-leading Australian projects to combat dementia. Research highlights so far include:
• The promise of ultrasound technology to improve memory and slow the onset of dementia, by helping clear the toxic amyloid protein from the brain
• Research targeting whether increased brain iron levels are the ‘missing link’ in the development of dementia
• The impact of childhood stress as a dementia risk factor, especially among Aboriginal Australians
• The potential for eye scans to reveal three biomarkers associated with early signs of cognitive decline
• Improved diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia, one of the most common forms of the disease
• Harnessing the power of music to assist people in managing and living with dementia
• Specialised staff training including massage, music and reminiscence therapies, to improve dementia care
We have also committed a further $5.3 million in the recent Budget for a pilot program to improve day-to-day care for people living with dementia, with an emphasis on using innovative technologies.
This month, Australia took another world-leading step, with the establishment of the Australian Dementia Network, or ADNeT. This aims to turbocharge our quest for cures, prevention and better management of the condition. In just a fortnight, ADNeT has generated phenomenal interest, as it works to begin collating a massive database of Australians living with dementia and to build a network of thousands of test-ready volunteers, which could speed up the trialling of cures and new technologies by three years.
While this world-class science is lifting the hopes of many and holds much promise, equally important is the Dementia Friends initiative. Given the growing prevalence of dementia, it is quite possible that you and me will find ourselves with the condition, so becoming a Dementia Friend makes sense for everyone.
It is more than just clicking on a website to register as a supporter, it involves completing a short but engaging online education kit. Built on programs underway in the UK, Europe, the US and Canada, I am urging all Australians to join me and become part of this global movement.
It has so far inspired more than one million people worldwide to find out how they can make a difference in so many small but important ways, to the lives of people impacted by dementia.
Taking a few minutes to sign up as a Dementia Friend, opens the doors to a program that can help you understand and share the challenges, so that people living with dementia can experience longer and more fulfilling lives, with the respect and dignity they deserve.
You can sign up to become a Dementia Friend by clicking here.