Dementia Friendly America

In my last blog I encouraged all of us while we are on our quest to end Alzheimer’s to also start focusing more on ensuring the well-being of the more than 5 million Americans who are currently living with the disease.

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to what that is going to take. I think it is going to, as the saying goes…take a village, or rather a community. Increasingly we are hearing the term “dementia-friendly community”. What does that mean? In the U.K. it has come to represent a concerted effort on the part of the Alzheimer’s Society to have persons living with the disease and their families be better supported by the entire community. For a very inspirational look at the progress being made across the pond, I suggest watching this YouTube video.
So, it’s an interesting, and increasingly necessary question to ponder. What if our focus could shift for a time to thinking about how best to include and support those amongst us living with dementia in our greater communities? What would that take? The folks devoted to this concept in the U.K., Australia, and in a few states here in the U.S. have looked at this as a holistic reframing of society…everyone’s touched and everyone has a role. The U.K. Alzheimer’s Society describes a dementia friendly community as, “…one in which people with dementia are empowered to have aspirations and feel confident, knowing they can contribute and participate in activities that are meaningful to them.”

So, America, I think we have some work to do! How much better would living with dementia in America be if every grocery store clerk and police officer understood dementia and was trained in supportive approaches? What if every Emergency Room had a dementia specialist who could assist in emergencies involving persons living with dementia? I think it’s time. There is a consortium of organizations that has formed to start this movement in America. The Dementia Friendly America (DFA) initiative is off to a great start, but needs to catch on and take off—and that takes all of us joining in. The DFA’s website outlines a wonderful “All Sectors Approach” and offers up resources for all parts of society to get involved and become dementia-friendly. Banks, legal entities, businesses, transportation and housing organizations, the healthcare sector, communities of faith, and neighbors all have to play a role.

So, perhaps this month when we specially recognize our need to increase our Alzheimer’s Awareness it is the perfect time to become more focused on what you can do in your neighborhood community, your work community, your school community, your corporate community, your faith community—start from your circle of influence and work outward from there. It’s time we all become dementia friends.

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