According to the Alzheimer's Association, over 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias in 2015. That number is expected to accelerate rapidly as baby boomers continue to age. Sadly, more than a quarter of Alzheimer's patients do not leave home more than once a week for fear of getting lost or confused, not wanting to be a burden to others or not having transportation, according to the Alzheimer's Society.
Psychologists are among those working to change that by working with grassroots organizations to develop dementia friendly communities. "Just as we have ramps for people with mobility challenges, we need to create cognitive ramps for people with dementia," explains Cameron Camp, Ph.D., Director of Research and Development at the Center for Applied Research in Dementia, in Solon, Ohio.
In dementia friendly communities, local governments, businesses, public transportation and faith communities collaborate to provide meaningful activities for people with memory loss. One community in Roseville, MN, uses Memory Cafes to engage Dementia patients and caregivers. They gather together every month to have a cup of coffee while participating in guided social activities. Memory cafe events are held in coffee shops, local assisted-living facilities, and faith-based settings throughout the Roseville community. "Memory Cafes provide opportunities for normal socialization for dementia patients and their caregivers." says Warren Wolfe an activist on the Roseville Alzheimer's and Dementia Community Action Team.
The University of Minnesota is also exploring how technology can play a role in facilitating a more dementia friendly experience for families in the St. Paul-Minneapolis metropolitan area. Jospeh E. Gaugler, Ph.D., a Professor at the School of Nursing, Center on Aging at The University of Minnesota and Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Applied Gerontology is leading the University of Minnesota's study to determine if a remote monitoring system can help dementia patients live in their homes longer. Wireless sensors are placed throughout the homes of study participants to monitor daily activity and alerts are sent to caregivers to flag immediate concerns. The goal is to help patients live independently in the community while decreasing any potential safety risks. "People with dementia are still people and have preferences for how they want to live their lives. We have to emphasize who the person is and how they can contribute to society," explains Gaugler.
Psychologists advocate that dementia should be treated more like a disability and less like a disease. "What would happen if we started treating Dementia the same way that we treat Down Syndrome?" questioned Camp, referencing Special Olympics, public billboards, and other disability friendly campaigns.