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Building and Supporting Dementia-Inclusive Communities

By Sarah Nicolay | 10/15/2020

A young man helping an older adult with directions

Have you ever seen someone wandering in your neighborhood or struggling to count money at the store? Have you ever helped that person find their way or get through the check-out line? In these situations, it may be difficult to know what to do or how best to help, but for people with dementia, the difficultly of having no guarantee of help as they face every day challenges is even greater.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 50 million people are living with dementia worldwide. To combat the impact that dementia has on people living with the disease and their caregivers, the Dementia Friendly America initiative was launched to create communities where everyone could provide support and understanding to these individuals. The initiative aids the residents who are living with dementia and their caregivers in the community by raising public knowledge about the disease, supporting people living with dementia and their caregivers and connecting health systems with community-based organizations. The Dementia Friends USA initiative was similarly created to provide resources and education for community members looking to be a part of a dementia-inclusive community.

What is a Dementia-Inclusive Community?

According to Dementia Friendly America, a Dementia-inclusive community is created when a network of community members participate in fostering people living with dementia and their caregivers in order to help them flourish in the community by staying informed about the challenges facing people living with dementia, how to best assist them, and providing safe, respectful experiences. Dementia-inclusive communities also encourage a range of community sectors to make changes that will affect the lives of people living with dementia and their caregivers by changing the community culture to ensure people living with dementia can thrive (Ohio Council for Cognitive Health. 2019. Dementia Inclusive Ohio).

How do Dementia-Inclusive Communities Help?

Community members who learn the signs of dementia and how to help can assist people living with dementia and their caregivers by engaging with them and empowering them to thrive in the community. A grocery store employee can help someone navigate the aisles, and a bank employee can help someone count money or recognize the signs of financial exploitation. Even small amounts of understanding and knowledge about the disease can ensure the people living with dementia and their caregivers are able to be supported.

Who Can Be Involved?

In order to create a dementia-inclusive community, everyone should be involved. This could include neighbors, students, bus drivers, sales associates, hospitals, law offices, grocery stores, banks, post offices, first responders, faith-based organizations, utility crews, libraries, insurance agents, law enforcement, restaurants and local governments. Everyone plays a role in fostering a welcoming community for people living with dementia and their caregivers by being able to communicate effectively and providing extra assistance or services if needed. Community spaces can also make improvements like adding green spaces, benches, level pavements, ramps, and traffic islands to ensure accessibility and safety (World Health Organization. 2007. Global Age-friendly Cities: A Guide. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/home-and-family/livable-communities/2013-12/global-age-friendly-cities-guide-english.pdf).

How Can You Become A Dementia Friend in Your Community?

Dementia Friends USA concentrates on individual impact, raising awareness and supporting community members to become Dementia Friends through a series of brief educational online videos on the ways different parts of the community can support those living with dementia, or a 45 to 60 minute in-person session. By learning what it is like to live with dementia, all sectors of the community: neighbors, businesses, schools and governments can build an understanding of the disease and turn that into a commitment to take action to support individuals living with dementia in our communities. To get started, we can visit the Dementia Friends USA website at dementiafriendsusa.org.

Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging is involved in two federally-funded grant projects to develop dementia-inclusive communities in Ohio. Visit our overview of our current research projects to learn more about these projects.