Festival fever helps Byron Bay become more dementia-friendly

Byron Bay and the surrounding shire are renowned for their festivals, and a local health provider has used this as an opportunity to spread the word about dementia. 

Karen Harborow, the Dementia-friendly Communities Activity Coordinator at the Byron Shire Respite Service, said a $15,000 grant from Dementia Australia has helped the organisation set-up pop-up stalls at many festivals across the shire, which had provided a great opportunity to talk to people about dementia.

"If there's been a festival anywhere in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales we have been there ready to talk to anyone about dementia," Karen said. 

The group ran the pop-up stalls and information sessions at a diverse range of events such as Lismore’s Anti-Homophobia Day and LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex) family festivals; local primary school fetes; Murwillumbah Chamber of Commerce; and Parkinson’s Disease support meetings. 

“We expected to reach a broad range of people and sign-up Dementia Friends, and we did, but we were also surprised by the number of people who approached us fearful that they were living with unexplained or early cognitive decline.

“In those instances, we immediately made referrals to appropriate services but it demonstrated to us that the work to dispel the discrimination, and the myth that dementia is an older person’s disease, is so important.”

Feedback from the groups approached indicated:

Pictured: Jenni and Karen from the Byron Shire project, with photo credit to Aslan Shand from The Echo Newspaper
  • community members were more likely to engage with information sessions that were weighted towards risk-reduction measures 
  • organisations or community groups made up mainly of older women were less likely to have time or interest in finding out more about dementia
  • aged care employees across the shire had little knowledge or training in dementia other than what is included in a TAFE aged care or disability certificate III course.

While the Dementia Australia funding has now finished, the Byron Respite Service is keen to continue the project and consider new strategies when approaching groups which had they had not been able to reach during the funded period. There will also be an ongoing working relationship with Dementia Australia and local staff. 

Are you interested in making your community dementia-friendly? The first step is to become a Dementia Friend. Find out more at dementiafriendly.org.au or call our National Dementia Helpline 1800 100 500.