Dementia-Friendly Communities Becoming More Popular

While dementia-friendly towns are numerous across Europe, they are just starting to take hold here in the states. Dementia-friendly towns aim to increase awareness about the disease and implement ways to allow those with dementia to continue living an independent lifestyle. There are staggering statistics showing how little those with dementia travel outside of their home, for fear of going out alone and becoming disoriented. Their lack of confidence has become a barrier. People with memory loss are still vital members of society, and for them to feel unsafe in their community is a disservice to all. It is important for them to feel empowered to have high aspirations and feel confident, knowing they can contribute and participate in activities that are meaningful to them.

But how does a town become “dementia-friendly?” Here in the US, Watertown, Wisconsin has pioneered several ways to do so. The first step is creating awareness about the disease and educating people, in the hopes of destroying any lingering stigmas surrounding dementia. Once we challenge these stigmas, we can then build understanding, ultimately leading to change for a better quality of life for those with dementia. Another critical step is for business owners to implement training for their employees to effectively assist customers with memory loss. Simply instructing employees to guide dementia customers through a series of step by step instructions will greatly decrease the stress of a retail store’s hectic environment. For example, a waitress asking the patron if they would like a hot beverage or a cold beverage is better than asking what he or she would like to drink. Or, when at a coffee shop, showing the patron a small cup and large cup will help him decide which size coffee to purchase. In today’s fast-paced world of hustle and bustle, even simply having a cashier slow down her pace when checking out at the grocery store makes a difference in helping those with dementia. Customers with memory loss may feel like they are a burden or inconvenience, especially when writing a check takes longer than swiping a debit card. Slowing down and maintaining eye contact will help put them at ease, feel respected, and feel more confident during checkout.

So what can you do to make your community more accessible for those with memory loss? The first step is to simply ask the people with memory loss and their caregivers! Asking them exactly what they need to stay independent will shed light on areas that can be improved. It can be as easy as improving the visibility of signs in stores for easier navigation, clearing sidewalks for safe mobility, or general awareness and education in the community. A general knowledge of the disease and its characteristics will help people in the community identify those with memory loss, so we can better serve them. By gaining a better understanding of dementia and finding ways in the community to support them, people with memory loss will feel safer and more confident to continue living their lives independently, without having to transition to a facility.

People who are able to remain at home typically are more likely to have a better quality of life and are less likely to visit the doctor. It can be beneficial to their overall health as well and can be more cost effective to have a caregiver regularly visit an independent elderly person. A caregiver will encourage fluids, provide nutritious meals, ensure safety and fall prevention, and provide companionship. With the support of the community and an engaged caregiver, those with memory loss can continue to live safely at home for many years to come.