Rallying to Become a Dementia-friendly Community

It is not uncommon for people with dementia to face significant barriers, from engaging in social activities to navigating a neighborhood, or even a conversation with their healthcare provider. Without support or understanding of their condition, many shrug their shoulders in frustration and give up out of fear or feelings of being misunderstood. Some will isolate, lacking confidence and feeling they have nothing to contribute. Others reach out but may be met with no response or a disregard of their offer.

Lunch In the Nursing Home

Individuals with Alzheimer's and related dementias do not stop living just because of a diagnosis. They are still people—needing engagement, activity and purpose.

All of us need and have the power to make an impact, remove stigma, and enable people with dementia to become integral parts of their communities, to create opportunities for inclusion. But to make that a reality, we need to become dementia-friendly as a society. We need neighbors, agencies, stores, banks, libraries, law enforcement, families to get educated about Alzheimer's and other dementias and not put limitations on persons with dementia. We need to approach it like we would any other disability—identify and anticipate barriers and remove them.

In the United Kingdom, where the dementia-friendly community movement has taken fire, a pie shop in Yorkshire has created a sales space away from the main cashier area where people with dementia can feel calm, comfortable, and in control. They also offer help with shopping, counting out change and ensuring pies are put in bags clearly marked with the purchase date—so that customers with memory loss don't forget when to eat them.

Senior Woman Taking A Walk, Holding Hands

As an organization, the Alzheimer's Association conducts regular community education on topics such as "The Basics: Memory Loss, Dementia & Alzheimer's disease" and "Know the 10 Warning Signs," which help attendees better understand dementia and how best to support someone with Alzheimer's. We work to increase concern and awareness through educational venues such as community conferences, forums, media engagement, support groups, and other programs and services.

Following are examples of what other local organizations are doing to create a dementia-friendly community:

  • The Greenwood Senior Center engages and educates businesses, social groups, municipal services, and faith communities in making Greenwood and Phinney Ridge dementia-friendly and dementia-capable neighborhoods. Their mission: "Create an inclusive neighborhood where people with dementia and their care partners continue to be part of the community, are supported, and are met with understanding and kindness." Through workshops, training and conversation, their mission will be realized.
  • Seattle Parks and Recreation offers a variety of enriching dementia-friendly recreation opportunities such as urban farming, volunteering at Cherry Street Food Bank, and participating in a talent show. Seattle Parks and the Alzheimer's Association also offer a weekly Memory Loss Zoo Walk at the Woodland Park Zoo.
  • More than three years ago, the Frye Art Museum launched an arts engagement program called "here:now" for persons with dementia and their care partners. Here:now continues to grow. Starting this fall, here:now will offer a new quarterly program called Meet Me at the Movies (a program the Alzheimer's Association helped pilot last April).
  • Several organizations, including the Greenwood Senior Center and Full Life Care, are sponsoring Alzheimer's Cafes at different establishments throughout King and Snohomish Counties. If you visit Full Life Care's event page, you learn that "an Alzheimer's Café is a way for people living with dementia and their friends and family to have the simple yet meaningful experience of connecting with others and enjoying a tasty treat in a community setting. In this model, a restaurant or café sets aside a particular time to especially welcome people living with dementia—with a simplified menu and staff who are aware of the customers' special needs. An Alzheimer's Café invites people living with dementia to maintain a place in the community, rather than becoming isolated or having to withdraw from enjoyable activities."

Contributor Keri Pollock directs communications for the Alzheimer's Association, Western and Central Washington Chapter. She has served on the boards of several local organizations with missions that support making the greater Seattle area a dementia-capable and friendly community.

Two Opportunities: Cameron Camp & The Dementia-friendly Community

On May 16, 2014, the Alzheimer's Association will feature Dr. Cameron Camp as the keynote speaker at Discovery 2014, our 29th Annual Alzheimer's Regional Conference. Dr. Camp will also speak the evening before at Town Hall Seattle on the topic "The Dementia-Friendly Community." Dr. Camp has helped address supportive elements of dementia-friendly communities in Australia, the U.K., and now the United States. These inclusive communities focus on enhancing quality of life for people with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias by recognizing and responding to their needs. Camp will discuss the model of a Dementia-Friendly community, provide international examples, and explain how they translate into long-term care.