Despite our increased capacity for connection, many individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or memory loss still struggle with isolation, loneliness and a general sense of societal neglect. For these individuals, and the families who support them, social connections can be difficult to make and a simple task can quickly become a stressful challenge. Fortunately, Dementia Friendly Communities around the country are responding to this need by engaging in comprehensive efforts to accommodate those who struggle with these conditions.
What is a Dementia Friendly Community?
So, what is a dementia friendly community? The Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs defines a dementia friendly community as a space that is “informed, safe, and respectful, and enables people living with dementia and those who care about them to live full, engaged lives.” As you can imagine, this type of initiative is no simple task. Building a dementia friendly community is truly a 360° endeavor and requires strong commitments from every sector of society. These include access to safe and affordable independent and assisted living spaces, access to emergency medical services, well placed government resources and care services, trained and prepared local businesses, engaged neighbors and community members, available legal and financial planning services, quality public transportation and the ability to participate in local communities of faith.
The importance of planning ahead
When we think about our lives, we don’t limit the scope to a single area; instead, we consider the whole package. Who are the important people in our lives? How do we spend time with them? What sorts of things do we like to do? What sorts of things do we have to do? Where do we like to go? How do we get there? How can we ensure our safety? What steps do we take to ensure that we are happy and fulfilled? Likewise, dementia friendly communities do not reduce individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia to their diagnosis, but rather engage with the individual as a valuable member of the community. This person-centered approach can manifest itself in any number of ways, from personalized care resources and services to better vocational training that prepares skilled workers and technicians for interactions with the memory impaired.
As Alzheimer’s and dementia are often accompanied by decreased mobility and a reduction in fine motor skills, it is important to identify the warning signs and to not only seek out proper resources in the community, but also make some helpful changes at home. Feel free to reach out to Stannah, if you feel that your loved-one would benefit from staying at home, but needs help getting up and down the stairs safely. Our stairlifts are designed to be easy and intuitive to use, making them an ideal option for those living with dementia.
Given the importance of planning ahead, elder law attorneys are also a key component of a dementia friendly community. These lawyers specialize in legal and financial planning, and can help prepare important documents, such as a will or power of attorney. Attorney Sandra Rennie Austin specializes in estate planning and offered the following perspective on the importance of establishing a long-term plan: “Estate planning is often misconceived as an undertaking applicable only to those with a large financial inheritance to be devised when one passes away. The truth is, estate planning at its core is an invaluable legal tool, providing an opportunity for each person to make known who, how, and what she wants to happen in her future.”
In addition to the service based pieces of the puzzle, a strong dementia friendly community also features enriching social opportunities for its members, such as the rapidly growing trend of dementia cafés. These cafés are a great place for elders and their caregivers to get together and socialize in a safe and welcoming setting. Often, it can be difficult for those struggling with dementia to enjoy being out in public. These cafés work to destigmatize the disease and provide positive social interactions for those who struggle to make these connections on a daily basis.
While the movement is nationwide, Massachusetts is considered an “early adopter” state for the dementia friendly initiative. Currently, Elder Affairs and Jewish Family & Children’s Service are actively engaging with local community leaders and organizations to make a dementia friendly Massachusetts a reality. If you’d like to learn more about dementia friendly communities, where to find them and how you can get involved, visit Dementia Friendly America and check out the exciting changes that could soon be coming to your community.