I have contemplated it often: What would have happened if Mom had wandered off while living with me? She didn’t know the area or the people. Would people take the appropriate actions by calling the authorities to get her help? Or would they just assume she was fine and let her go on her way? Would there have been activities available to her and other people with dementia? Would the community recognize the stress that I – like other caregivers of people with dementia – was under?
Which brings me to the next logical question -- what would a dementia-friendly community look like? Well, some examples are beginning to emerge around the world that, hopefully, will provide role models for other countries to emulate.
For starters, there’s Bruges, Belgium. A BBC story featured this city as a leading pioneer in creating a dementia-friendly community that many across the word are trying to emulate. The story highlighted the following about the city, which has 2,000 residents who have dementia (of which two-thirds live in the community):
- Businesses display signs showing that their staff is ready to help for people with dementia. (This aspect reminded me of the Helping Hand program that was in vogue when I was growing up many years ago where homes would display a sign with a hand in the window so that children who were in trouble would know where to turn.)
- The police have created a database of vulnerable citizens. The database is kept updated to include information that will help police when they are looking for a missing person who has dementia, such as what the person who has dementia was wearing, where they were last seen, and where they worked.
- The city has specialists in dementia counseling who help both the person with dementia as well as the caretaker.
- The city has a choir involving people with dementia.
The United Kingdom also is starting to explore developing these types of communities. In 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron called for the creation of dementia-friendly communities as part of his challenge on dementia. His vision calls for:
- Up to 20 cities, towns and villages will have signed up by 2015 to be dementia-friendly.
- Leading businesses will provide support for the prime minister’s challenge on dementia.
- An awareness campaign will begin.
- The Dementia-friendly Communities Programme will work in partnership with the Dementia Action Alliance to develop evidence describing the elements of a dementia-friendly community.
The Alzheimer’s Society, which is a membership organization that works to improve the quality of life of people who are affected by dementia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is working to develop dementia-friendly communities as part of its five-year strategy to create dementia-friendly communities. These communities will be designed to improve the inclusion as well as the quality of life of people who have dementia. That effort includes improving the citizens’ understanding of dementia, encouraging people with dementia and their caregivers to see help and support, and including people with dementia to be more independent and to have more choice and control over their lives.
As part of this initiative, the society has created the Dementia Friends program. In this program, people learn more about what it’s like to have dementia and then is asked to turn that understanding into action. There’s a training program in which volunteers are trained as Dementia Friends’ Champions. These champions, in turn, run training sessions in communities. Then, as I mentioned earlier, the goals is to create an action. According to the Dementia Friends website, these actions could include:
- Remaining patient with someone who is showing signs of dementia.
- Spending more time with or assisting a friend or relative affected by dementia.
- Volunteering with an organization that supports people with dementia.
- Fundraising for a dementia-related cause.
- Helping the workplace become friendlier to people with dementia.
I hope these ideas will spread across the globe so that communities everywhere can become safe havens for people with dementia.
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Alzheimer’s Society. (nd). Website.
BBC. (2013). Pioneering dementia-friendly community in Bruges.
Dementia Action Alliance. (nd.) Website.
Dementia Friends. (2013). What is a dementia friend? Alzheimer’s Society.