On Creating Dementia-Friendly Communities

By now, we are all far too familiar with that ubiquitous announcement in airports and train stations: “If you see something, say something.” Of course, we’re all supposed to be on the lookout for suspicious, dangerous behaviors among our fellow travelers.

But that phrase takes on a totally different significance when we are asked to be on the lookout for people at risk who need help. Specifically, how can we be of most help to our neighbors and other community members who are dealing with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia?

That’s the mission of the Dementia Friendly America® Initiative. A coalition that brings together nonprofits, medical professionals, community leaders and people living with dementia, the initiative promotes a four-step process at the local level to assess needs of people with dementia and how the community can respond to make basic services and resources more accessible.

Building a Dementia-Friendly Community

Currently, more than three dozen states are working to promote dementia-friendly communities, including Massachusetts. In Boston, Jewish Family & Children’s Services and the Department of Elder Affairs are leading an effort to promote this model statewide.

So, what does this effort involve?

The basic idea is to examine all the different sectors of a community to determine the best way that each could be more welcoming and supportive of people with dementia. For example, how can public signage be designed to make it easier for those with Alzheimer’s to find directions or public services, such as hospitals or the library? Or how can emergency responders be better trained to help people with cognitive impairments? How can bank tellers, librarians or store clerks learn to recognize the specific challenges faced by people with dementia and make their services more accessible? Sensitivity, planning and education can go a long way toward making a community more inclusive.

Making Restaurants More Inclusive

Purple Table is another creative approach to fostering dementia-friendly communities. Participating restaurants provide reserved tables in quiet corners that are well lit and close to restrooms for customers with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, as well as those with autism, PTSD, hearing or vision impairments, or other conditions that require special accommodations. Staff are trained to provide extra attention and to show patience and kindness to these guests. In Central Massachusetts, to date, The Red Raven in Acton offers Purple Table reservations.

Religious communities can also play a very important leadership role in the effort to make communities dementia-friendly. Religious leaders are often aware of members in their community who are dealing with dementia. Home outreach, help with transportation, ensuring that religious spaces follow principles of universal design — all of this and more are ways to be sure that community members with cognitive impairments do not become isolated.

What Each of Us Can Do

And what about “see something, say something”? If each of us pays a little more attention to friends and neighbors who seem to be having a more difficult time managing day-to-day, offering a helping hand, contacting their family if needed (to the extent that this kind of communication is welcome), chances are we can make our own little corners of the world more inclusive and welcoming, too.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care™ manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

Image Credit: Nina Strehl

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