SEP 18, 2015 04:56 PM PDT

Communities Trying to Be Dementia Friendly

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
Communities try to make life easier for those with dementia by educating businesses.
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.
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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