Creating a Dementia Friendly Community

individuals, businesses, and groups are working together to ensure everyone is safe and welcome

Barbara Arnold, photos by Andrea Paulseth

A Memory Cafe at the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire earlier this year.
A Memory Cafe at the Chippewa Valley Museum in Eau Claire earlier this year.

Do you know someone living with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia?

Purple angel logos are popping up on the doors of Chippewa Valley businesses and organizations that are joining the Dementia Friendly Community movement. Many more need to participate, according to Judy Fuhrer, a retired school psychologist and counselor, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s type dementia two years ago.

The philosophy behind this movement is that people with dementia deserve to live life to its fullest extent regardless of their disease, and everyone in the community ought to circle around these people to ensure that happens.

The philosophy behind this movement is that people with dementia deserve to live life to its fullest extent regardless of their disease, and everyone in the community ought to circle around these people to ensure that happens.

“I could hardly call Eau Claire dementia-friendly,” she shared. “We are fortunate that we have a dementia care specialist in Eau Claire County, and we do have services offered. There is a very active dementia-friendly training program going on for businesses and agencies. A number of businesses have done the training. However, there are many more that have not. Additionally, many organizations have not responded to requests to have dementia-friendly training.”

Lisa Wells is the dementia care specialist at the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Eau Claire County, and she is extremely passionate about her calling to help those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. “People perceive that dementia is a disease limited to the elderly, when in fact, people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s can develop the disease,” she noted.

The Dementia Friendly Community movement was born across the pond in the United Kingdom in 2012. Norman McNamara, who lives in Torbay, Devon, was diagnosed with dementia at age 50. One day the owner of a shop spoke rudely to McNamara when he was out shopping, which is when he chose to change how others treat those with dementia. He put together a couple of fact sheets about dementia to educate people, and the rest is history.

The philosophy behind this movement is that people with dementia deserve to live life to its fullest extent regardless of their disease, and everyone in the community ought to circle around these people to ensure that happens.

Festival Foods is one of the Chippewa Valley businesses that understands the value of the dementia-friendly designation.

“Being dementia-friendly is an extension of the Festival Foods culture, and it is our mission to enrich the lives of others in the community,” said Teresa Henrickson, assistant store director for Festival Foods. “One of the best ways to live out this mission is to offer these types of services for our valued guests.

“We extend ourselves by helping the guest. We take them to the product. And we take the extra time in order for them to feel comfortable in our store,” she continued. “Family members also know that their relatives living with dementia are in a safe environment if they are here shopping. We have had numerous phone calls from the children of parents that shop with us to thank us for taking care of them. In addition, we have some assisted living facilities bring their residents to Festival to shop knowing they will be in safe hands.”

Bob McCoy, president and CEO of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, whose slogan is “Our Community is Our Business,” also advocates for the Dementia Friendly Community initiative.

“Being a dementia-friendly organization allows employees to recognize customers who might have dementia and treat them accordingly,” McCoy shared. “The program shows we care about our citizens, and that we will treat and respect those that might be different than most. That shows a great quality of life and a place I believe people would like to live. The more people know about people with dementia, the easier it is to interact with them as customers and visitors.”

What would happen if Eau Claire does not become more fully dementia-friendly? Fuhrer, who is facing the disease head-on, has the answer. “With our aging population, there will be a dramatic increase in the number of individuals with various types of dementia,” she said. “If as a community we in Eau Claire don’t pull together to deal with this problem, a large percent of our population will be disadvantaged.”

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a dementia-friendly organization, please call the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Eau Claire County at (715) 839-4735 or Chippewa County at (715) 271-1824. You can visit them online at facebook.com/dementiafriendlyecc or facebook.com/dementiacoalitionofcc.

WHAT IS A DEMENTIA FRIENDLY COMMUNITY?

A dementia friendly community is one that cares about its neighbors; one that listens to the feeling of its residents with dementia; one that sees the signs; one that understands the needs; and one that acts.

It’s a place where people with dementia will live as independently as possible. Where they will be valued and respected. Where they will engage in activities that we all take for granted and will be supported as these activities become more difficult. Where the changes in the person will be noticed, understood, and accepted.

A dementia friendly community is one that has looked at its shops, restaurants, markets, and streets through the eyes of a person with dementia; then does everything it can to make it a place where they can continue to live as independently as possible. When memory changes begin, many become more isolated, which frequently hastens the cognitive decline. A community that understands dementia will be one that supports and cares for its neighbors who are struggling to deal with loss of memories, loss of the ability to do routine activities, loss of jobs, loss of independence, and loss of self.

Source: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin (alzwisc.org)

About the Author(s)

Barbara Arnold

Barbara Arnold, a writer in Eau Claire, is a “cool aunt” who will take care of your kids for a date night and deliver them back on a sugar high. She has served as a coach and mentor to hundreds of young people.

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