Almost a third of Australians are scared of people with dementia. Those are the confronting results of a "devastating" new survey.
Carried out by IPSOS on behalf of Dementia Australia, the survey found that 32 per cent of respondents are frightened by people with dementia.
Alarmingly, the results suggest fear of dementia has increased by almost 10 per cent in the past 10 years - 23 per cent of respondents admitted to a similar fear in a study a decade ago.
As the nation marks Dementia Action Week (September 18-24), the organisation is calling for urgent action to make communities more dementia friendly.
It is seeking commitments from councils, businesses, community groups and leaders in every corner of Australia to take decisive action to reduce the growing stigma.
Dementia Australia chief executive Maree McCabe was "alarmed" by the results.
"These are devastating findings," she said.
When asked about the large increase in people frightened by others with dementia, Ms McCabe said she believes that while awareness of what dementia is has increased, many people are still unsure of how to treat people living with the disease.
"For the most part, people want to make a difference, but are worried about doing or saying the wrong thing and causing offence and upset," she said.
A separate Dementia Australia study revealed 80 per cent of people who have loved ones living with dementia thought people in shops, cafes and restaurants treated them differently.
"This fear leads to stigma and discrimination which can have a real and distressing impact on people living with dementia, their families and carers."
Mc McCabe said stigma surrounding dementia could lead to people avoiding vital support and becoming increasingly socially isolated.
An estimated 400,000 Australians are currently living with dementia, with about 70 per cent of them still living in the community.
Ms McCabe said there are a number of simple things community groups and organisations can do to change perception.
There are a number of resources on the organisation's website aimed at increasing understanding - including helpful videos and a PowerPoint presentation.
The organisation is also doing a lot of promotion through both social and mainstream media to let people know these resources are available.
"I think it's just really important that we use every opportunity to get the message out there so people can continue living in the communities they love with the people they love," she said.
Dementia Australia Advisory Committee chair Bobby Redman, who lives with dementia, said fear of those living with dementia could stem from depictions in popular culture.
"If you have this stereotype of what a person with dementia is and it's somebody who is violent or aggressive, you're seeing an extreme," Ms Redman said.
"However, if you know someone with dementia, you'll realise that we're just regular people with an illness. It's similar to any type of discrimination or stigma - once you know people from that community, they're no longer scary."
Ms Redman said understanding and support were key to creating more caring communities.
"We need to get back to the approach of people in the community looking after each other and not assuming that everybody can manage at the same level," he said.
For dementia support, contact the National Dementia Helpline on 1800-100-500. For more information click here.
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