Kiama hosts dementia pilot study

University researcher Lyn Phillipson is leading the Kiama study.
University researcher Lyn Phillipson is leading the Kiama study.

Brendan Crabb 

AS PART of an Australian first, Kiama and its ageing population will be the pilot site for a new project aimed at creating dementia-friendly communities.

The initiative will eventually be rolled out throughout Australia.

The project partners 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 significant ageing population made it an ideal pilot site. 

She also cited 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 approximately 3700 by 2050.

The multidisciplinary initiative combines researchers from various 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.” 

Dr Phillipson said the project challenged the notion that people with dementia couldn’t lead lives where they feel included and supported to achieve the best quality of life.

She said it was an issue the wider community needed to be better informed about.  

“People with dementia often feel socially isolated and experience stigma and discrimination after their diagnosis,” Dr Phillipson said.

“Environments have also not often been designed in a way that supports the independence of people with dementia, so we will need to see a shift in both the social and physical environments in which we live.

“Within each community there will be parts of the population more vulnerable, and require particular types of strategies.

“We’re trying to look at how cognitive impairment informs the need to design environments, signage, pathways and services.

“How can we simplify things, so it’s easier for people with dementia to participate?”

Dr Phillipson said research would be conducted in a manner which appropriately engaged dementia patients, who may not respond to methods such as surveys. 

Researchers will take a hands-on approach; seeing first-hand which areas and services people with dementia struggled with.

“We’re looking to put ourselves in the shoes of people with dementia, who are living in Kiama… How they get out and about in the community,” Dr Phillipson said.