IN AN Australian first, Kiama will be the pilot site for a project to create dementia-friendly communities.
The initiative will eventually be rolled out throughout Australia.
The project partners are the University of Wollongong's Global Challenges Program, Alzheimer's Australia and Kiama Council. It aims to change the way people with dementia interact within their social and physical environments.
Lead researcher Dr Lyn Phillipson, from the University of Wollongong, said Kiama's large ageing population made it an ideal pilot site.
She also cited the council's research into making Kiama more age-friendly.
It is estimated about 1200 people in Kiama are living with dementia, with that number expected to reach about 3700 by 2050.
The initiative combines researchers from fields including medicine, social science and engineering.
"Kiama has the highest proportion of people in their community of post-retirement age than any other region in the whole state," Dr Phillipson said.
"It's not the first dementia-friendly community [in Australia], but the first community that Alzheimer's Australia as a national organisation has engaged with.
"As awareness grows about the needs of an ageing population, and especially the needs of those with dementia, we will all need to rise to the challenge of being dementia-friendly; whether that be in the way we build homes, transport systems or hospitals, or in the way we deliver services in shops and banks.
"The key to the strategy is to move dementia out of hospitals and aged care homes, and into the community."
Researchers will take a hands-on approach; seeing which areas and services people with dementia struggled with.
"We're looking to put ourselves in the shoes of people with dementia . . . how they get out and about in the community," Dr Phillipson said.
■ See extended story at kiamaindependent.com.au.