Dementia is an unfortunate growing trend, and it’s time to do something about it!
Over 50 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia: a group of symptoms that describes a decline in mental ability and memory loss. In Minnesota alone, it is estimated that more than 92,000 older adults have Alzheimer’s. That number will increase to 120,000 by 2025, according to projections by the Alzheimer’s Association. As life expectancies continue to rise, the risk of dementia also grows and it is likely to touch everyone’s life in one way or another. ‘Dementia friendly communities’ can help. They are designed to change the way people see dementia, and how they treat those affected by this disease.
What is a ‘dementia friendly community’?
Minnesota is leading the way as one of the first states to adopt the concept of a ‘dementia friendly community’. This concept originated in the UK, where a 50 year old man diagnosed with mild dementia experienced rude treatment while out shopping. With the support and help of his family, he set out to expand awareness and have businesses, restaurants, streets, etc., see through the eyes of a person with dementia. His belief was that when the dementia worsens, a ‘dementia friendly community’ would be able to provide more understanding, support and care for their neighbors who struggle dealing with their loss of independence, loss of memories and more. Ultimately, a ‘dementia friendly community’ helps those with dementia keep much of their independence and helps them remain a part of the community.
Simple ways to become a ‘dementia friendly community’
As the population continues to age, so does the likelihood of dementia occurring among friends, families, neighbors, and co-workers. Many individuals go undiagnosed because they are frightened by the label and stigma of dementia. By taking steps to increase awareness and by paying attention to early warning signs, there are ways to show recognition and handle potentially stressful situations:
- Use “compassion cards” – business cards that alert restaurant servers, clerks and others to show patience for the person with dementia.
- Experience a ‘hands on’ dementia simulation – garbing up and experiencing what it’s like to have dementia. Many organizations provide this powerful tool to increase understanding of those afflicted.
- Create simpler, easier to read signage in public places to minimize possible confusion.
- Participate in a “Memory Café” setting to have those diagnosed with memory loss and their care partners engage with peers in a relaxed and friendly environment.
- Provide memory aids and simplified instructions for tasks. Encourage trained team co-worker involvement and support in the workplace.
- Attend caregiver education classes and support groups; many of these are offered free of charge.
Resources and support
Three outstanding resources are available that will help make communities more ‘dementia friendly’. Many of these resources are free -- and all are practical:
- Alzheimer’s Association – www.alz.org
- ACT on Alzheimer’s – www.actonalz.org
- Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging and Senior Linkage Line – www.metroaging.org
Have some HOPE
Making communities dementia friendly means improving quality of life for people with dementia, their families, caregivers, friends, neighbors and co-workers; and encouraging them to have HOPE:
H – Have patience. Be kind and friendly. Don’t rush things.
O – Offer assistance. Keep what you say simple and specific.
P – Participate. Encourage involvement, engagement and provide support.
E – Educate yourself. Learn more about dementia’s early warning signs.
EPPIA is a networking group whose members are committed to the welfare of seniors in our community. EPPIA members meet to learn, exchange information and discuss issues in the field of aging. For more information on EPPIA and local senior resources, please visit our website at www.edenprairieaging.org