Becoming a dementia-friendly community

On: October 15, 2015

Promoting Senior Wellness: Becoming a dementia-friendly community

(This article was published in the Daily Local News on October 12, 2015)

By Pamela Leland, PhD

More than 5 million people in this country have Alzheimer’s Disease or another form of dementia. This translates to 270,000 Pennsylvanians who are currently living with this incurable disease.

And the number continues to increase. By 2025, we anticipate that 320,000 Pennsylvanians age 65 or older – an 18% increase! – will have Alzheimer’s or another dementia-related disease.      dementia friendly graphic

While there are different types of dementia, a common experience for both those living with the disease and those caring for a family member, is the sense of isolation and loneliness.

Given the extent of this disease as well as its anticipated increase, it is not enough to simply assure families that they are not alone or to provide information on the services and supports that are currently available.

We – as communities – need to be both more knowledgeable and more competent in meeting the needs of those with dementia and those loved ones who serve as caregivers.

Building the capacity of communities to care for those with dementia is the purpose of the Dementia Friendly America Initiative. Announced at the recent White House Conference on Aging, Dementia Friendly America is a national, multi-sector collaboration whose mission is to better equip communities to meet the needs of those with dementia by helping communities become “dementia-friendly.” Its intent is to send the message that “You are not alone. We are your neighbors. We care about you and we want to help.” … and then follow through with actions, resources and changes in community behavior.

This collaborative effort brings together various members of the community to build awareness, knowledge and skills in serving those with dementia. This includes not just government officials or social services but businesses, first responders, faith communities, professional services such as attorneys and financial advisors and others. A number of communities across the country have jumped on board including communities in Minnesota, Maryland, Illinois, Colorado and the state of West Virginia.

The work of becoming a “dementia-friendly community” includes the following:

  • Raising awareness about dementia and transforming attitudes about dementia
  • Having supportive options that foster quality of life
  • Supporting caregivers and families touched by the disease
  • Promoting meaningful participation in community life
  • Reaching those who are underserved

Becoming a dementia friendly community will require all of us. As Angela Lunde, a dementia education specialist at the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center wrote in September, “Dementia Friendly is much more than simply being kind to those impacted by dementia.  A dementia friendly community is one where those living with Alzheimer’s and their care partners feel respected, supported, and included in everyday community life.”

It’s a community where people across all sectors – teachers, students, business owners, shopkeepers, restaurants, libraries, churches, grocery stores – are educated about dementia. It is a community where there are special programs and activities, e.g., walking clubs, support groups, cultural outings for those with dementia. Dementia friendly communities attempt to create a comprehensive and coordinated system of care and support.

Here at The Hickman, we can imagine such communities throughout Chester County. We want to work with others who have a similar vision. Will you join with us to help make this happen?

I look forward to hearing from you by phone, (484) 760-6415, or email pleland@thehickman.org.