People with dementia often feel that society fails to understand the condition that they live with, how it impacts them, or how to understand them. As their disease progresses, they often withdraw from society rather than feel ostracized.
It is our job to prompt people to think about how businesses and communities can become more aware of and understanding about these people and the condition they live with. First responders, bank personnel, store clerks, restaurant staff – all of us, really – can contribute to a more helpful and humane environment for those who suffer from dementia and their caregivers.
The solution may lie in creating dementia-friendly communities.
What is a Dementia-Friendly Community?
Every single person in a dementia-friendly community, regardless of their role, is informed and respectful of individuals with the disease and the families and caregivers that provide them support.
Dementia-friendly communities are vital in helping people with dementia live well and maintain a connection to others. They are equipped to support the people living with dementia and their caregivers, and they allow those affected to remain in the community at large and to engage and thrive in day-to-day living.
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, there are four essential elements needed to support a dementia-friendly community: People, communities, organizations, and partnerships.
This is what they have to say:
Dementia friendly communities should be shaped around information about the social and economic impacts of dementia, and the needs and opinions of people living with dementia, together with input from their caregivers. By ensuring that initiatives are inclusive of people living with dementia at all stages of development, we can succeed in giving them the sense of respect, dignity, and purpose they seek.
There is a need to tackle the stigma and social isolation associated with dementia through strategies to engage and include people with dementia in community activities. The availability of accessible community activities that are appropriate to the needs of people living with dementia, along with suitable transport options, are important for a community to become dementia friendly. The engagement of people living with dementia in existing community activities rather than only specialized activities is also important. Providing people with dementia the opportunity to remain in their homes and within their communities should be a guiding principle.
These are the opportunities we all have a right to expect: Paid or unpaid activities, social opportunities though sporting activities such as golf, meeting with friends, participation in community activities such as choirs and walking clubs, access to retail, banking and other services.
A physical environment that supports the needs of people living with dementia is also critical. It needs to be accessible and easy to navigate. Pathways, signage, and lighting all need special consideration.
For people living with dementia to remain engaged within their communities, businesses and organizations need to demonstrate awareness, respect, and responsiveness. Encouraging organizations to establish dementia-friendly approaches and implement strategies that help people with dementia will contribute to a dementia friendly society.
A timely diagnosis of dementia and early treatment is a critical component of a dementia-friendly community. This allows for delivering dementia-friendly services that respond to the unique needs of people with dementia at the right place and the right time.
The establishment of dementia-friendly communities as a social action initiative needs cross-sectoral support and collective action to effect change. It is no one organization’s sole responsibility to effect change of this scale, therefore collective commitment to this cause and working in collaboration and partnership is critical. The strengths and focus of organizations within a community need to be identified and built into the plan for establishing a dementia friendly society.