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The Importance of Building Dementia-Friendly Communities

Jennifer Wegerer
By Jennifer WegererOctober 31, 2016

A new study from Britain reveals that one-third of people with dementia feel let down by their local communities.

However, by transforming themselves into dementia-friendly communities, cities and towns can help dementia sufferers feel less like a burden and more a part of local life.

How Dementia-Friendly Communities Make a Difference

An unfortunate trend, more and more dementia sufferers feel trapped in their own homes.

According to research from the Alzheimer’s Society, 35% of people with dementia leave their homes once a week. What’s more, about 10% go out only once a month.

People with dementia stay home because they feel like a burden to their communities. In turn, they become less independent, and their quality of life suffers. This leads to more and more health issues that land them in care facilities.

Over 35 million people in the world have dementia. Alzheimer’s Disease International projects that this number will nearly double every 20 years. With dementia cases on the rise worldwide, the importance of early intervention and community understanding of dementia has never been greater.

In an effort to help people with dementia feel more included, cities and towns are transitioning to dementia-friendly communities.

Essentially, these communities make a promise through words and actions to understand, respect and support the unique needs of people with dementia. The hope is that these individuals will feel more a part of their community and contribute more of their unique talents and skills.

Bruges, Belgium

As an example of what dementia-friendly communities can do, Bruges, Belgium, maintains a database of people with dementia in case one of them goes missing. They also have a local choir made up of people with dementia. Many stores have trained their employees to deal with dementia patients and display signs letting customers know the store is dementia-friendly.

Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota

Comprised of community groups and individuals, Minnesota’s ACT on Alzheimer’s organization aims to make communities more dementia-friendly. It’s developed an online toolkit to help towns assess problems that dementia residents face and devise solutions. This could mean better training for sales people or drivers of public transportation. It could also mean educating police and first-responders. Overall, the goal is to raise awareness of dementia and diminish the stigma of this disease.

How to Build a Dementia-Friendly Community

How Communities and Individuals Can Help

Building a dementia-friendly community takes collaboration, investment and time. It involves health services, social services, law enforcement, local government, charities and volunteer groups. It also involves individuals listening, showing respect and offering a helping hand. As efforts in Bruges and the Twin Cities show, it can be done.

Even small steps, such as training store employees to be more tolerant or bus drivers to recognize passengers with dementia, can make a difference. Public or self-education on the unique needs of dementia residents can impart a better understanding of the symptoms and diminish the stigma associated with this disease.

Each of these steps can build into broader community efforts.

Lowering All-Around Costs

Enhancing quality of life for the ever-expanding population of adults with dementia can lower costs for the community as a whole. In the U.S., costs for Alzheimer’s patients are high, but the costs aren’t just monetary.

Having that community support in place for dementia patients can be therapeutic in and of itself. They’ll feel welcomed, listened to and respected, which can improve their overall health. That helps stave off or prevent health issues or the need for long-term care.

It also inspires people with dementia to remain a part of the life around them, and their contribution benefits us all.

Has your community made efforts to become dementia-friendly? Share your stories and tips with us in the comments below.

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Jennifer Wegerer

Jennifer Wegerer

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