If you encountered someone in the grocery store checkout line struggling to communicate or to make their purchase, would you try to help? Would you know how to help? If you saw a person in your neighborhood who appeared confused or disoriented, would you intervene? What would you say? And how would you say it?
We’ve made some good progress when it comes to making public spaces, services, businesses, and communities safer and more accessible for people with physical disabilities. But when it comes to accessibility and inclusion for people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities, we’ve got a lot more work to do.
Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia impact one in nine people over the age of 65, and about 5.5 million of our family members, friends, and neighbors are experiencing changes in their memory, thinking, and behavior. Quality of life is absolutely possible for people living with dementia, but it does require support. And not just from the people who know and care directly for the person, but also the community that surrounds them. When neighborhoods, businesses, public services, and transit systems are filled with people who understand dementia, and don’t fear or stigmatize it, people with cognitive disorders can stay engaged in their daily routines and activities, and enjoy happy, healthy, social, productive lives. Caring for people with dementia begins by caring about them, and this is a team sport. So let’s suit up.
Dementia Friends is an international initiative that has made its way to the U.S. in a worldwide endeavor to make communities safer and happier for people living with dementia. I’ve been anxiously awaiting its arrival here in San Diego, and this week I was excited to be in the first group of “Dementia Champions” trained by the county’s Health and Human Services Agency. Which means that now I can help YOU to become a Dementia Friend! It’s a fun, free one-hour session that can take place just about anywhere – no audio-visual equipment or Power Point required! Gather a few coworkers, some friends from church or the gym, a service club, or even your book club, and commit to becoming Dementia Friends together. It’s an interactive and informative hour where you’ll learn new ways of thinking about dementia, practical tips for supporting your friends and neighbors who are living with memory and cognitive problems, helpful communication techniques, and ways to be more dementia-friendly in your everyday life.
Let’s change the way we think and talk about dementia, and break the stigma and shame that currently surrounds these diseases. There’s nothing to fear when it comes to people with dementia – and who couldn’t use a few more friends? If you’re interested in scheduling a session, just reach out and let me know!
To learn more, or to find resources outside of San Diego, please check out Dementia Friends USA.