The Alzheimer’s Society of the UK has been working on the concept of “dementia-friendly communities” for the last several years. It seems this idea is now taking shape here in the US in individual communities. Watertown, Wisconsin is one of them. In Watertown, the community has come together to discuss dementia, and what they can do at the grassroots level to provide a friendly environment for their residents as they age, and should they develop dementia. They are training all different professions on how best to serve individuals with dementia, from law offices to banks, to stores and coffee shops. Their goal is to educate 75% of local businesses by the end of 2016. The hope is to eliminate the stigma associated with the disease. Minnesota communities are also following suit, with 34 towns developing their own dementia-friendly strategy.
The principals of a dementia-friendly community, as described by the Alzheimer’s Society, include involving people with dementia and their caregivers. These community members need to feel confident that they can contribute and participate in activities that are meaningful to them. Creating accessible community activities is another goal. And offering varying housing arrangements that promote independence is vital to a dementia-friendly community as well.
The state of Massachusetts is fortunate to have a Secretary of Elder Affairs that really understands dementia, and all that goes along with this epidemic…She speaks of creating ‘dementia positive’ communities. What a creative, and refreshing way of describing the task we have before us. Positivity is powerful, perhaps even more impactful than ‘friendliness.’ In a dementia positive community, the bank tellers will know how to provide extra assistance to their customer who may be confused. In a dementia positive community, the paramedics will know how to engage with a community member with dementia who needs urgent help but whose best interest is not to go to the hospital, an often scary place. In a dementia positive community, neighbors will help one another to navigate through a neighborhood safely, and help one another to get home.
Whether it be dementia-friendly, or dementia-positive, it’s clear that with the rising number of individuals affected by Alzheimer’s disease, our communities must respond, in order to serve their residents and have them feeling welcome, safe, and valuable to the community regardless of their cognitive status.