By SHERIDAN ROY
The town of Southington is leading the way in the state of Connecticut in the nationwide initiative, “Dementia Friendly America.” In partnership with LiveWell, formerly the Alzheimer’s Resource Center, “Dementia Free Southington” is charting the maps for other Connecticut municipalities as it recruits members, spreads awareness, and makes the town a safer place for people living with dementia.
In September 2015, the White House Conference on Aging announced the Dementia Friendly America initiative. That spurred individual states to take on the initiative, including Dementia Free Connecticut. With an action team of about 300 dementia friends in Southington, the local branch of the program is moving quickly.
“This community is so receptive to helping their neighbors,” said Katy Bannister, director of community development at LiveWell. “Because of that, we are poised in this town to be the first Dementia Friendly community in Connecticut.”
Dementia Friendly Southington is made possible through educational sessions that touch on details about the disease, what it may look like, and how to help. It teaches community members how to be receptive, understanding and available for their neighbors, friends and family members living with dementia.
There are five key messages that Dementia Friends Connecticut strives to relay: dementia is not a normal part of aging; it is caused by diseases of the brain; it is not about having memory problems; it is possible to have a good quality of life with dementia; and there is more to the person than the dementia.
Becoming a “dementia friend” is the first step. LiveWell offers a one-hour informational session, which shares facts about dementia, explains how it affects the brain, shows signs of what it may look like, and shows how easy it is to help.
“Part of this movement is to change the way people think, act and talk about dementia,” said Bannister. “The curriculum will teach communication tips, you’ll learn a little about healthy brains and what it looks like when affected, and you can see why it’s so disruptive to an individual. By the end of the session, you’ll have learned several simple ways to help create a dementia friendly community.”
Spreading awareness and gaining dementia friends is the first step of the process. Dementia friends are encouraged to participate in a day-long training at LiveWell to become “dementia friend champions,” which certifies individuals to teach informational sessions to their book clubs, faith communities, workplaces and beyond.
The next step beyond the informational sessions is sector-based training. That consists of educating banks, supermarkets, libraries, first responders and other community sectors on ways to become dementia friendly.
For example, consider a typical restaurant experience. It is often noisy, busy, and menus feature more options than most people can remember. For someone living with dementia, all of those experiences are that much more difficult to process. Through training, restaurant staff can learn how to best provide a comfortable atmosphere for people living with dementia.
“Southington is so resource-rich for this program, and the demographics are there,” said Bannister. “I am very confident that with the involvement and the stakeholders who have come on-board, this is the kind of town where we can do this – we can become a dementia friendly Southington.”
To inquire about an informational session, or to learn more about Dementia Friendly Southington, visit www.dementiafriendsct.org. Questions may also be directed to Katy Bannister at firstname.lastname@example.org or (860) 628-3062.