Watertown, Minnesota, 50 miles west of Milwaukee, is attempting to make life easier for those with dementia. The city and the whole state are leading the push nationally for communities to become "dementia friendly." Watertown has a "Memory Cafe," a monthly coffee-shop support and social group for people with dementia and their caretakers. A state-run website offers advice on how to be dementia friendly and includes downloadable documents, training videos and statistics, according to a story from the Associated Press and published in Bioscience Technology
The objective is to educate businesses about how to better serve people whose decline in memory or other thinking skills is affecting their everyday activities. The city hopes to train 75 percent of its businesses by 2016, according to Jan Zimmerman, director of dementia outreach and education for The Lutheran Home Association, which runs retirement communities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Florida.
Training sessions are geared for specific professions. Lawyers and estate planners are asked to use shorter, more digestible explanations. Coffee shop baristas are advised to ask yes or no questions. Bank tellers are instructed on how to not get impatient when customers get confused. Businesses that participate get purple angels for their windows.
"Our goal is to help educate the community, help get rid of the stigma that is still associated with it and to create a community that those living with dementia are still a vital part of," said Zimmerman, who began the Watertown effort in 2013.
According to Watertown attorney Tom Levi, who deals with a lot of estate planning, "I'm interested in helping them, keeping them independent and at the same time ensuring what they are interested in is actually going to be fulfilled."
Minnesota's effort began as part of a 2009 legislative mandate to generate ideas to address the problem. Now 34 communities are involved. Minnesota’s plan is a template for other communities.Denver and Tempe, Arizona, have committed to the effort, as have communities in Prince George's County in Maryland, Santa Clara County in California and the state of West Virginia. The United Kingdom, Scotland and Ireland have taken on the concept, separately. Because communities have different needs, their approach to the concept might vary.
The most common form of dementia is Alzheimer's. The Alzheimer's Association estimates there are 5.3 million people with Alzheimer's disease in the United States alone, costing more than $200 billion annually. The number is expected to reach 7.1 million in the next decade, greatly affecting state budgets and Medicaid, the association said.