A few years after losing her mother to dementia, Robyn Fairbairn started to experience the tell-tale signs of the insidious disease.
“We’d been through it once,’’ said her husband and carer, Graham, “but having it affect you so much more directly was even more of a challenge.’’
Mr Fairbairn is helping his wife, and other Kiama residents with dementia, to navigate those challenges through his role in the municipality’s Dementia Advisory Group.
It is the involvement of people with lived experience of dementia, like the Fairbairns, plus the support of the community that has contributed to the success of the the Dementia Friendly Kiama Project which this week won a major national award.
The project – a collaboration between Kiama Council, the University of Wollongong, Alzheimer’s Australia and many community members – was awarded the Excellence in Community Partnerships Award at the 2016 National Disability Awards.
It was the latest in a long list of accolades for the project which has seen more than 300 people trained in dementia awareness and more than 150 trained to be a ‘dementia friend’.
As well as raising awareness among residents, businesses, organisations and local groups, there has also been improvements to the physical environment to help people better find their way.
“Winning this award is confirmation that we’re headed in the right direction, that we’re starting to create a shift in the way the community thinks about dementia and responds to it,’’ Kiama Council spokesman Nick Guggisberg said.
It can be simple things – like training community members how to help someone if they look disoriented, or installing large signs in public toilets so people don’t find themselves locked in.
“Robyn has become distressed after locking herself in toilet cubicles, so signs with clear directions on how to get out are simple but effective,’’ Mr Fairbairn said.
“Helping develop initiatives like this gives us a lot of satisfaction – we’re not just in it for ourselves, we want to make it better for others facing similar challenges.’’
Dementia advocate on nation’s honour roll
University of Wollongong PhD student and dementia advocate Kate Swaffer is South Australia’s Australian of the Year.
Diagnosed with younger onset dementia at 49, she now works with Alzheimer’s Australia on its dementia friendly communities initiatives – including in Kiama.
“I truly believe, it is the power of the authentic voices of people living with any type of dementia, that has the power to positively impact this work and make tangible change,’’ she said.
“The motto of ‘nothing about us, without all of us’ is being realised in Kiama, and this is the uniqueness and success of the project.
“It is not only the reason it is winning so many awards, but why it is making a difference to the lives of real people living with or supporting someone with dementia.’’