By Jane King
Dementia can be a mystery to people who may not know how to react when they encounter someone with the disease. This can be the case even for those who have had experience with a family member or an acquaintance with dementia.
To better prepare Alexandria to support those with dementia and their caregivers and assure their ability to engage more fully in city life, the Alexandria Commission on Aging and Goodwin House are leading the development of Dementia Friendly Alexandria in close collaboration with an action team.
The action team includes local government officials, home care providers, nonprofit organizations, the faith community and others. The team and many volunteers are not functioning in isolation: More than 200 communities in the nation are certified by Dementia Friendly America. They are provided with resources and technical assistance designed to equip communities to better support people living with dementia and their care partners.
Dementia Friendly Alexandria’s purpose is to educate and inspire Alexandria’s organizations and residents to respond more confidently to the needs of someone with dementia, no matter their relationship to the person with dementia. For example, a police officer helping a man with dementia who seems lost would approach the man differently than a waiter taking his order in a restaurant. Both the officer and waiter can be taught to react based on the capacities of those with dementia.
The action team and volunteers plan to provide every segment of the community the information essential to better understand the appropriate, supportive ways to respond to residents with dementia.
A one-hour training session developed by Dementia Friendly America can be offered to all segments of the community, including businesses, banks, law enforcement, first responders, health care systems, faith communities, local government and caregivers. This program advises attendees about the symptoms of dementia, its progression and the best ways to communicate with those who have the disease.
Those who deliver the one-hour educational session have participated in a lengthier training themselves and are given the title of Dementia Champions. Several members of the action team are Dementia Champions and are currently focusing on first responders and the faith community. Members of the Alexandria Police Department have already received the training.
Five key messages about dementia have been identified:
- Dementia is not a normal part of aging. Not everyone who grows old will develop dementia.
- Dementia is caused by diseases of the brain. The most common is Alzheimer’s.
- Dementia is not just about having memory problems. It can affect thinking, communication and everyday tasks.
- It is possible to have a good quality of life with dementia.
- There’s more to the person than the dementia. People with dementia are a valuable part of the community.
Jane King is chair of At Home in Alexandria. To learn more about Dementia Friendly Alexandria or sponsoring a training, please contact King at [email protected], Jackie Barbarito at [email protected] or Mary Lee Anderson at [email protected].