How to Improve Communities for People with Dementia

Learn what you can do to help make your community dementia-inclusive.

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- Posted on Oct 15, 2019

A woman in her golden years grocery shopping with the assistance of a caregiver.

Sarah Nicolay is a Research Assistant at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

You want to reach out to help when you see an older adult searching for a misplaced car in a parking lot, or having trouble with a credit card reader at the grocery store. It’s natural to try to do whatever you can—especially when you imagine your loved one in the same situation—but you may not be sure of the best approach. These scenarios are not unusual, considering that an estimated 50 million people are living with dementia worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Those who live independently face daily challenges in navigating their communities. In an effort to change things, an initiative has been launched to combat the impact that dementia has on people who live with the disease, as well as on their caregivers.

The goal of the Dementia Friendly America initiative is to create communities where everyone can provide support and understanding to these individuals. The initiative aids the residents who are living with dementia and their caregivers in the community by raising public knowledge about the disease, supporting people living with dementia and their caregivers and connecting health systems with community-based organizations. The Dementia Friends USA initiative was similarly created to provide resources and education for community members looking to be a part of a dementia-inclusive community.

What is the Definition of a Dementia-Inclusive Community?

According to Dementia Friendly America, a dementia-inclusive community is created when a network of community members participate in fostering people living with dementia and their caregivers in order to help them flourish in the community by staying informed about the challenges facing people living with dementia, how to best assist them, and providing safe, respectful experiences. Dementia-inclusive communities also encourage a range of community sectors to make changes that will affect the lives of people living with dementia and their caregivers by changing the community culture to ensure people living with dementia can thrive (Ohio Council for Cognitive Health. 2019. Dementia Inclusive Ohio).

How Can Members of a Dementia-Inclusive Community Provide Assistance?

When people are educated about the signs of dementia and ways to assist, they can engage with those who have the disease, as well as with their caregivers, empowering them to thrive in the community. Someone who works in a grocery store can help an individual to find products on the shelves, for example. Or a bank employee can assist with counting money or spotting potential financial exploitation. Even a little understanding and knowledge about dementia can go a long way toward supporting those who live with it.

Who Can Participate?

People from all walks of life can contribute to the creation of a dementia-inclusive community. This could include neighbors, students, bus and cab drivers, store and bank employees, medical professionals, lawyers and legal staffers, postal and restaurant workers, first responders, representatives of faith-based organizations, utility crew members, librarians, insurance agents, law enforcement and local government officials. Anyone can take part in fostering a more nurturing community for people living with dementia and their caregivers by learning how to communicate effectively and offering extra help or services when necessary. Community spaces can also make improvements like adding green spaces, benches, level pavements, ramps, and traffic islands to ensure accessibility and safety (World Health Organization. 2007. Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/home-and-family/livable-communities/2013-12/global-age-friendly-cities-guide-english.pdf).

Where Do I Get Started to Become A Dementia Friend in My Community?

Dementia Friends USA concentrates on individual impact, raising awareness and supporting community members to become Dementia Friends through a series of brief educational online videos on the ways different parts of the community can support those living with dementia, or a 45 to 60 minute in-person session. By learning what it is like to live with dementia, all sectors of the community: neighbors, businesses, schools and governments can build an understanding of the disease and turn that into a commitment to take action to support individuals living with dementia in your community. To get started, visit the Dementia Friends USA website at dementiafriendsusa.org.

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