The emergence of dementia-friendly communities may have come in the nick of time as Americans over the age of 65 are expected to make up roughly 20% of the population by the year 2040—with rates of dementia rising right along with them.
These communities hope to promote inclusion and support for both those with the disease as well as their caregivers. Such a shift could be a boon for how we think about dementia care in the future, allowing people with cognitive deficits to participate more fully in the community and remain independent longer, as Kate Swaffer of the Dementia Alliance International explained:
“The importance of the concept of dementia-friendly communities fits with the needs of our human rights and disability rights to be recognized. In the same way as any other person with a disability, we should be supported to remain independent in our communities for as long as possible.”
Dementia-friendly communities include businesses and services meant to raise awareness of individuals living with the disease, thus destigmatizing them, while offering support and accommodations meant to maintain independence and prevent caregiver burnout. Some examples include:
- Local law enforcement and emergency responders are trained to recognize and respond to persons with dementia.
- Transportation, housing and public areas are developed in a way that promotes independence and access.
- Businesses, libraries and other services develop supports or systems that accommodate and foster independence for those with dementia.
- Local employers are trained to understand and accommodate family caregivers.
- Churches and other faith organizations have special services or accommodations available.
- Health care providers are equipped to spot the signs of cognitive decline early and connect people with support.
- Neighbors and community members may receive training and act as support persons to individuals as well as their caregivers.
“Finding ways to help those in our community with dementia remain active, social, and engaged, with their dignity intact, is simply the right thing to do,” Debbie Selsavage, a certified dementia practitioner, explained to the Citrus County Chronicle.
Dementia-friendly communities and businesses are popping up around the world. Dementia Friendly America has communities in most states while Dementia Friendly Canada is working to bring more communities to British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. The United Kingdom had 284 communities as of 2019 alone, with Scotland recently funding the development of five new communities through government grants.
Local dementia alliances in the UK play a big role in the development of communities and businesses that strive to accommodate people with cognitive deficits. The Teesside International Airport is an example of these alliances in action: Two local organizations, along with the Alzheimer’s Association, worked with the airport to make the space accessible. They even brought in a local woman, Lorraine Dunn, 68, who had been diagnosed with dementia six years earlier to assist with the project. Signs, lights and layout were all adjusted to be more accessible for those with impairments.
And it isn’t just those with dementia who benefit, researchers in China discovered:
“We found that promoting the construction of age-friendly cities can significantly improve residents’ psychological capital and SE [social engagement],” they wrote, “and that residents from all age groups can benefit.”
More and more businesses are being certified dementia-friendly as they lean into the training and education needed to recognize when someone has the disease and how to best serve them. Online guides and training are also helping organizations accommodate everyone, and many local governments in the U.S. have enacted initiatives to encourage more businesses and communities to choose the dementia-friendly route.
How to find dementia-friendly communities
There are a number of dementia-friendly communities in the United States, many of which are listed on Dementia Friendly America’s website. In addition, individual states, such as Wisconsin, and government entities, like Los Angeles, often have lists of communities online. A simple Google search of the local area can provide more individual information.
Dementia-friendly businesses are also fairly easy to find online. Dementia Friendly Fort Worth, for example, curates businesses and organizations working toward becoming dementia-friendly. Many large cities do the same—just type “dementia-friendly businesses” into the search bar, along with your city or local area for listings.
Dementia-friendly communities and businesses help restore dignity to people living with cognitive impairment while helping them maintain as much independence as possible. Caregivers can benefit immensely as well—with the communities acting to lift some of the burden and isolation that can come with caring for a loved one. By eliminating many of the struggles that come with navigating society for people with dementia, these communities could hold the key to a better quality of life for our aging population.