Dementia Friendly Communities

The demographic ageing of the population has brought an increase in the number of people living with dementia. International estimates are 46 million, with this number expected to rise to 138 million by 2050. Coping with the increased prevalence of dementia demands a shift in both the social and the physical environments in which we live.

The ‘Dementia Friendly Kiama’ project is a partnership between the University of Wollongong (UOW) Global Challenges Program, the Kiama Municipal Council, the Kiama community and Dementia Australia.

The project utilises a Community-based Participatory Action Research framework to inform the development, implementation and evaluation of a dementia-friendly community intervention.

Initial research in Kiama included:

  • interviews and mapping exercises with people with dementia and their carers
  • community and business surveys
  • piloting a Dementia-friendly business toolkit
  • the development of an environmental assessment tool for use in the auditing of public buildings.

This research guided the Action Plan of a local Dementia Alliance and Dementia Advisory Group. Evaluative research activities monitored inputs, outputs, impacts and outcomes of the project. 

Dementia-friendly Kiama Evaluation Flyer



Dementia Friendly Communities

In 2014, UOW announced the NSW South Coast town of Kiama, which has a significant older population, would be the pilot site for a bold new project aimed at creating dementia-friendly communities throughout Australia.

Currently we have about 300,000 people living in Australia with Dementia and because of the aging of our population, by 2050 that'll be almost a million people.

Hi my name is Lynne Philipson. I'm an NHMRC Dementia Fellow. If we’re going to make a community more Dementia friendly, it's not going to be something that happens because of a single person or because of a single discipline, a program like Global Challenges was really important to address a complex sticky problem like improving a community environment. we need to be able to work with researchers and people with expertise about how we engage the community members. How we work to improve knowledge and attitudes around Dementia.

So the disciplines that we engaged to help us see if we could make Kiama Dementia friendly were Engineering Psychologists and Designers, Human Geographers and Public Health researchers.

My name is Richard Fleming. I'm a Professorial Fellow here in the School of Nursing at the University of Wollongong. My speciality is Environmental Design for people with Dementia. So within the Dementia friendly communities project, I've been working on developing a way of evaluating public buildings.

One of the real strengths of this project has been working with people with Dementia and their carers. Without their help it wouldn't have been possible to develop the assessment tool that we've developed. Having them in the development team it was an extremely important in factor, a vital part of the project.

Hi, I'm Chris Brennan-Horley and I'm a human geographer. I am the maps guy with this project. I work with GIS. I'm helping bring together all the spatial data for this.

The maps have really been helpful in letting us know about the places and spaces that are important for people living with Dementia in Kiama. They've really helped the community living down there to understand what it is the people living with Dementia like and dislike. So the maps have helped us understand some of those aspects of the physical environment that have been challenging. Things like particular crosswalks and sidewalks signage on particular streets.

Dementia is a global challenge and it's not one that we can fix just with medical solutions. It's one that we have to fix at community level. And it takes all of us to make a change.


Project outcomes and publications

Key achievements include:

  1. The empowerment of people living with dementia including opportunities for civic participation, social inclusion and peer support through the Southern Dementia Advisory Group and other Dementia Friendly Kiama activities
  2. Improved community understanding and increased positive attitudes with regard to the capabilities of people living with dementia. This has been achieved via education sessions (with over 1000 attendances) and the development of information resources including the ‘Dementia Illawarra Shoalhaven’ website
  3. Tools to improve the physical environment including the Dementia Friendly Communities Environmental Assessment Tool (DFC-EAT) and the establishment of the ‘OurPlace’ Kiama mapping tool
  4. Public recognition and acclaim: Excellence in Community Partnerships Award at the National Disability Awards (2016), World Health Organisation recognition at the 7th Global Conference for the Alliance of Healthy Cities (2016),
    National Award for Local Government in the Disability Access and Inclusion category (2016)
  5. Impact on Policy
    Phillipson, Brennan-Horley and Fleming made a submission (no 145) to the House Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities. The focus of the submission was regarding the economic and social imperative for transitioning cities and regional development to promote dementia and aged friendly environments. Following their submission they were invited to appear before the committee as part of a public hearing on Friday March 23 2018. Evidence presented during this enquiry drew on learnings from the Dementia Friendly Kiama project. 
  6. Impact on National Practice - The model and tools informed Dementia Australia’s $3.9 million ‘National Dementia Friendly Communities Strategy’ funded by the Department of Health (2017-2021).
  7. Follow-on projects such as the ‘Dementia Enabling University Strategy’ have increased opportunities for students from five faculties to study the impact of dementia and consider their role in the creation of dementia friendly communities.

In the media

The team

Dementia-Friendly Communities and Organisations brings together researchers from diverse fields, include public health, geography, medicine, information systems and technology. 

  • Dr Lyn Phillipson is a NHMRC-ARC Dementia Fellow with the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, and the Australian Health Services Research Institute
  • Professor Richard Fleming is a Professorial Fellow in UOW’s Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health
  • Professor Chris Cook, former Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Information Sciences, UOW (now retired)
  • Dr Chris Brennan-Horley is an ARC DECRA Fellow in Human Geography in the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities
  • Professor Helen Hasan is an expert in information systems in the Australian Health Services Research Institute in UOW’s Faculty of Business and Law
  • Dr Danika Hall is a project manager in the Australian Health Services Research Institute

Dr Elizabeth Cridland is a clinical psychologist with the ISLHD and was Associate Research Fellow in the Centre for Health Initiatives in UOW’s Faculty of Social Sciences from 2014-2017.

This project is working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals:

Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing .  Goal 17: Partnerships for the Goals