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Reduce dementia stigma

65% of people with dementia live in the community, so most people know and regularly interact with people living with dementia.

senior man with daughter and granddaughter

As a community, we have a lot of work to do to reduce dementia stigma.

Here are some ways you can help:

Talk about dementia

Learning and sharing accurate information about dementia is important to reduce fear and increase understanding.

In social situations people often talk about health issues such COVID, or back pain. But people are reluctant or may seem anxious talking about dementia.

People may try to discount or cover over symptoms of dementia, or even deny that dementia exists. They may think it is just part of getting old. This is an important opportunity to educate that dementia is the result of brain disease and is not a normal or natural part of ageing.

Engage others in discussions about dementia. Talk about the treatments and supports available that can help to manage or slow the progress of the condition.

If you hear something about dementia that is false or misleading, don’t be afraid to challenge it. For more information read: Face your fears about a dementia diagnosis.

Meet, talk with, and learn from people living with dementia and their carers

To reduce stigma, it is important to have contact with people living with dementia and their carers.

Talk to people with dementia directly, or read their stories. Understand the positive and negative aspects of their lives, and how they are still their own person.

Respect their diagnosis

If a person tells you they’ve been diagnosed with dementia, please take them at their word. There are many different types of dementia, including younger onset dementia, and dementia symptoms vary from type to type. Some symptoms are more noticeable than others and may be less noticeable in the early stages of dementia.

Promote inclusive social engagement

For people living with dementia, it is vital to stay engaged in meaningful relationships and activities. Ensure that family, friends and other social networks are inclusive of people living with dementia. If you are part of a club or organisation, learn how to make it more dementia friendly by visiting Dementia Australia’s Dementia Friendly Communities website.

Language matters

Historically, the language to describe or discuss dementia has focussed on losses experienced by the person living with dementia. This negative wording can increase dementia fear and stigma. We need to change our focus and our language to reinforce dignity, autonomy and personhood, for example:

Resist making jokes about dementia or people living with dementia as this too, reinforces stigma.

Challenge stereotypes

Some people believe negative stereotypes about people with dementia, such as people with dementia having aggressive behaviour or being unable to contribute to society.

The media often portray people with dementia in residential aged care facilities when they are very old and in the advanced stages. These portrayals are unhelpful and generate more fear of dementia. This causes some people experiencing changes to delay seeking a dementia diagnosis.

Whenever you get the opportunity, try to challenge negative stereotypes and encourage more accurate portrayals of people living with dementia.

Encourage timely diagnosis

People with dementia can live meaningful and productive lives for many years. Timely diagnosis helps both the person experiencing changes and their family supporters to learn about the condition, adapt to the diagnosis, get treatment, therapy and support and plan for their future.

What’s next?

In this article, you’ve learned ways to reduce dementia stigma. Try next: