Are you able to recognize if someone may be struggling due to dementia? What if you’re in a public place or that person is your customer or client?
More than typical memory loss or mild cognitive changes as we age, dementia refers to symptoms caused by disorders of the brain that begin to interfere with a person’s life. Someone with dementia may lose their ability write, speak or understand conversation. They may not be able to learn new information and may struggle to recall information they once knew. Focusing on tasks and understanding basic reasoning can become very difficult.
If you recognized someone living with dementia, would you be able to engage with them and empower them to get through their day — or would you feel as if there was nothing you could do?
This line of questioning inspired the creation of a global movement called Dementia Friends, which began in the United Kingdom and has spread to the United States. And, most recently, the movement has spread to our very own Lexington community, thanks to the Central Shenandoah Health District (CSHD) and Valley Program for Aging Services (VPAS). These two organizations have teamed up to launch the Dementia Friendly Lexington pilot program.
What Does It Mean to Be Dementia Friendly?
Inspired by research from The University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center, which predicts Lexington’s 60+ population will grow to be more than 17 percent of the total residents in the next 10 years, and research from the National Academy of Neurology, which estimates that about 16 percent of adults over the age of 60 are living with dementia, CSHD and VPAS knew changes needed to be made. “We took a look at ways our community can prepare to adapt for people living with dementia and the people who care for them, because that is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week, 365 days a year job,” says VPAS executive director Jeri Schaff. “The goal is to keep both groups active and engaged in the community so they feel welcome in the community.”
That’s why they turned to the Dementia Friends movement, which Jeri says is an affordable and doable goal for the Lexington community. “There are requirements for becoming a dementia-friendly community, but it’s not expensive and it doesn’t take a lot of time,” she says. “It just takes some attitudinal change and inexpensive changes in process.”
In fact, the changes that need to be made in order to establish Lexington as a dementia-friendly community are primarily rooted in awareness and education, rather than physical changes. Some examples that Jeri shares involve training service people — like bank tellers and restaurant wait staff — to talk directly to people with dementia, which helps avoid feelings of isolation, but to remain patient if it takes them a moment to respond. Or, becoming more dementia-friendly can be something as simple as making sure public restroom signs are clearly identified, rather than represented by clever symbols.
Plus, as Jeri says, taking small steps to make community members living with dementia feel more included and comfortable should be a natural goal. “We’ve had accessibility adaptations and accommodations for people with physical challenges for a long time, so there should be adaptations and accommodations for people with dementia as well,” she says.
Getting Involved With Dementia Friendly Lexington
In January, Mayor Frank Friedman issued a proclamation officially establishing the city’s commitment to becoming dementia-friendly. The Dementia Friendly Lexington steering committee will be working with various sectors of the community — from businesses, to banks, to schools and religious organizations — to share one-hour information and awareness sessions.
Kendal at Lexington will join the effort by participating in the steering committee, where we hope we can bring expertise as a CARF-accredited Person Centered Long-Term Care Community with a Dementia Care Specialty Program. In addition, many Kendal residents who may be experiencing memory loss and maintain very close connections in the Lexington community will also benefit.
This article referenced and was inspired by an article by our friends Kendal at Home in Ohio.
Post image is photo of painting by resident John Winfrey.