Dementia Friendly Communities – Part 1: Discover what they are and how we can see them come to life in our own backyard

It is no secret that dementia is a key focus area for many community and aged care organisations. With a growing figure of more than 400,000 Australians currently living with dementia, it makes sense.

Here at Positive Practice we are firm believers that every person regardless of age or disability should have the opportunity to engage and contribute in ways that are meaningful to them. What does this look like in practice though? It takes more than support services to make this happen – we need to look at the broader environment.

That is where dementia friendly communities come in. They are not new – you will have come across them before, but there is so much scope here. So, let’s take a moment to look at the theory.


‘… people with dementia are empowered to have high aspirations and feel confident, knowing they can contribute and participate in everyday activities that are meaningful to them.’


A dementia-friendly community is defined as, ‘one in which people with dementia are empowered to have high aspirations and feel confident, knowing they can contribute and participate in everyday activities that are meaningful to them. Dementia friendly environments are spaces that have been specifically designed and equipped and furnished to enable easier access, comfort and security and in which it is easier to undertake usual daily activities’2.

From the perspective of a person living with dementia, it is described as a place where individuals:

  • ‘Are respected as valuable members of the community
  • Can participate confidently in their communities – their neighbourhoods, stores, restaurants, banks, libraries, schools, hospitals and more – knowing that the people who live and work there are dementia-aware
  • Stay connected to their family, friends and neighbours, while having the chance to develop new relationships.
  • Enjoy meaningful lives, with access to education, recreation, work or volunteer opportunities, cultural enrichment and more.
  • Have a voice in their community and a leadership role in anything particularly impacting the lives of people with memory loss.
  • Have access to early diagnosis and post-diagnostic resources for themselves and their loved ones, including medical care, education and support, financial / legal services and advance care planning.
  • Have transportation options that help them stay involved in their community.
  • Have community housing options that provide the level of support they want, in the setting they desire.
  • Can navigate neighbourhoods and public spaces because the physical environment is supportive and clear’. 3 p2

How this theory is translated into practice is varied. There are many examples of inspiring initiatives which support communities to be dementia friendly. One such award winning initiative right here in Australia is the Kiama Council’s Dementia Friendly Kiama Project. Here the council and researchers worked collaboratively to help Kiama become more dementia-friendly through increasing community awareness, providing new opportunities for people with dementia, training for staff to better communicate with people with dementia, and improving the physical environment in the community.

A flow-on from the Kiama Project is an OurPlace Map, which identifies dementia friendly places.  Check it out to locate dementia friendly areas throughout Kiama, Darwin, Port Macquarie, Bayside/Brisbane & Bribie Island.

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

So, how do we create more dementia friendly communities across Australia?

The European Foundations’ Initiative on Dementia (EFID) have identified four essential factors in the successful development of a dementia friendly community4 p3. These include,

  1. ‘Providing training, education and awareness-raising about dementia’ – The literature reports that the level of knowledge and understanding about dementia within society is generally low and that awareness raising activities were considered the most effective as they have the potential to engage a wider range of individuals in the community4 pg3.
  2. ‘Active inclusion and involvement of people living with dementia in the communities where they live’ – The key message was that ‘people living with dementia should not be treated in a dementia-friendly community, as passive objects or recipients of things ‘done to them’’4 pg3.
  3. ‘Encouraging and supporting partnerships, networks and collaborations focused on developing dementia-friendly communities’- The study identified that ‘collaboration, through formal and informal processes, as an essential element of developing a DFC’. The most successful partnerships were diverse and had many functions including ‘sharing information, learning and resources, monitoring progress and impact, supporting members, promoting dementia friendly communities and enabling community development and cohesion’4.
  4. ‘Securing and sharing resources for developing a dementia-friendly community’- The study reinforced the ‘importance of having the right resources in place at the right time’4 p3.

If you are interested in learning more, and affecting change in your local community, here are a range of excellent resources.

  • Wisconsin Healthy Brain Initiative, 2015 – A Tool Kit for Building Dementia-Friendly Communities‘ This toolkit includes key steps such as defining the problem, creating a vision, building a plan, coalition or network, engaging a community, where to start and evolving the initiative; recommendations for dementia friendly businesses, easy-to-navigate environments, Community Organisations, Health Sector and Public Services Sector; strategies for personalising communication and various resources.
  •  Alzheimer’s Australia, 2016 – Creating Dementia-Friendly Communities: A Toolkit for Local Government’  This toolkit outlines three key steps including creating a climate for change, engaging with colleagues & the community and implement & sustain change, broken down into short and long term stages. These key steps are built on Kotter’s 8-step change model. Templates are also included for a dementia-friendly community survey, surveys for businesses, expression of interest to join a local dementia alliance, terms of reference, action plan, briefing note for service providers & businesses, engagement strategies for people living with dementia and physical environment & social engagement checklists.
  • Alzheimer’s Australia, 2014 – Creating Dementia-Friendly Communities: Community Toolkit’ This toolkit is designed to provide the information needed to make your community or business more dementia friendly, including social and environmental checklists, guidelines for organisations to become dementia friendly, information for staff to effectively communicate with people with dementia, existing resources to increase staff awareness about dementia and a guide to creating a dementia alliance.

Let’s take action, so together we prosper with humanity.

Look out for Part 2 of this series, where we will explore dementia friendly communities from around the world, and bring you the latest international initiatives.



1 The National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling NATSEM (2016) Economic Cost of Dementia in Australia 2016-2056

2 Dementia Roadmap, Dementia friendly communities, accessible at

3 Dementia Action Collaborative, 2016, Dementia-Friendly Communities An Introduction for Washington State, accessible at

4 European Foundations’ Initiative on Dementia (EFID), 2016, Mapping dementia-friendly communities across Europe – A summary of a study commissioned by the European Foundations’ Initiative on Dementia, accessible at