I had the pleasure of interviewing Nora Super, most recent executive director of the White House Conference on Aging, and now head of the Area Agencies for Aging in the country for an upcoming virtual Caregiver Summit. Under her purview falls Dementia Friendly America (DFA).
What is DFA?
During the last White House Conference on Aging, more than 75 initiatives were announced including DFA. What started in Minnesota is now in 36 states and 45 communities. And while Minnesota provided the blueprint, the reality is that each community can design DFA to their own needs. Making a community dementia friendly takes focus, requires resources, and ultimately must involve the entire community.
In my own town of Huntersville, NC, we started small. We convened a group of constituents interested in the issue. It was large at first but over time it was evident who were there because they were truly passionate versus who were there for business interests. So, the group became smaller and but more effective. One person, working with a colleague, started an adult day program at a church. We started memory cafes. We have had specific training for caregivers, fire and police. We participated in WRAD – World Rocks Against Dementia.
“Everyone can see part of themselves in it and want to become involved and want to be part of it. It’s a way to make life easier for the people that are living with dementia and those who are caring for them,” says Nora.
Nora outlined what specific communities were doing for DFA, setting the bar high for others. DFA provides free resources and tools on their website but the process from community to community is organic.
Memory Cafés are a hallmark of many communities. They are a place where caregiver and loved one can gather typically in a safe, social atmosphere to meet new people, support each other, and learn. Our Café is held in a local coffee place and I have even sung for attendees there! Cafes are great because typically upon diagnosis the social circles for those with dementia and their loved one sadly shrink. Yes, you do find out who your true friends are.
In Wyoming, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads an initiative to make businesses more dementia friendly. They set up a certification process for businesses. Businesses go through a training and learn how to become more dementia friendly. Decals on their windows let the public know of their commitment and I would venture to say helps them gain new business. Because when people take their loved one to this business they will be treated with respect and dignity and feel secure knowing staff have been trained to work with them in the best way possible.
In Montgomery County, MD, first responders have become involved. It is not uncommon for someone with dementia to “wander.” You have seen the Silver Alerts perhaps in your community. The fire and police chiefs came together. They designed a card for people to put on their refrigerators. It contains information about places they like to go, people they like to see so if they do go missing, they have a good likelihood of finding them.
How to Build Momentum
Go to the DFA web site – dfaamerica.org. There are coordinators in each state. Contact yours. Find out what is happening in your community already. And if nothing is, then take the lead. The national organization will certainly help you. But it does take commitment and passion to really succeed.
Our local initiative lost some momentum when the initial group dwindled. Nora recommends bringing in new people who are there for the right reasons, who are energized and excited about it. One way to find new people is to look at organizations that are partnering with DFA and if there is a local presence, reach out to them. DFA is already a part of their mission and values. Getting media coverage also helps to surface new volunteers.
Dementia Friends is Another Way to Get Involved
Dementia Friends is something that has been present in the U.K, Australia and elsewhere. It is targeted toward individuals. A Dementia Friend is someone who, through viewing a series of online videos, learns about what it's like to live with dementia and then turns that understanding into action. From telling friends about the Dementia Friends program to visiting someone who is living with dementia, every action counts. Anyone of any age can be a Dementia Friend – we all have a part to play in creating dementia friendly communities! Click here to get started.
Dementia Friendly is Not Just About Dementia
There are many older people who do not have dementia and programs like DFA actually make communities more sensitive in general to the needs of older adults. So DFA benefits everyone. It shows everyone how to have a bit more compassion and patience with people. And the world can certainly use more of that.