International “Dementia Friendly Community” Movement Sets the Pace

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Written by Jim Curto, the chief executive and founder of The Birches Assisted Living

Like so many good things, it came from England – and then it moved to . . . . . Minnesota, of all places.

The “it” is an “inclusiveness campaign” on how to live with people living with dementia. Like any movement, it already has rules. One is that there’s a formal planning process and team that includes people with dementia. A team might create an educational plan to achieve a better informed, more understanding community, where everyone, including those with dementia, can live full, happy lives.

The idea behind this inclusiveness movement is to create “Dementia Friendly (your community’s name here)” through educational and cooperative efforts. The result promises an improvement for merchants, public servants, and all citizens and visitors.

As a ‘how-to’ example, York, England, one of the first cities in the U.K. to be recognized as “working toward becoming a Dementia Friendly Community,” adopted what they called the “Four Cornerstones Approach.” The cornerstones were people, places, resources, and networks. Communities throughout the United Kingdom and the U.S. seeking identification as “dementia friendly” have adopted different schemes and models and have sometimes seemingly made up their own rules for what constitutes an “official” dementia friendly village.

It may be due to Minnesota’s Scandinavian roots or to a history of less-corrupted social services, or some particular individuals, but The Land of 10,000 Lakes is clearly a national leader in helping communities take on this challenge. From Crookston to Duluth, towns and villages in Minnesota are organizing their own inclusiveness campaigns with the goal of eventually seeking dementia friendly status.

“Dementia friendly” can be thought of as a counterpart to curb cuts on sidewalks so people using wheelchairs or other devices have an easier time. Could those efforts have been considered making our communities “wheelchair and walker friendly”? I suppose so, but this one considers how we can assist not only the people whose brains are starting to fail but those who interact with them in community life.

We haven’t gone too far with this, but in May, The Birches sponsored a program to show how business, government, and professional people in Clarendon Hills and Hinsdale might join this international movement. Rush University Medical Center’s Susan Frick, a nationally known expert on cognitive changes, spoke to us on this new initiative and how our communities might form a task force to go forward.

The Chicago Health and Aging project estimates one in seven people 71 and older have dementia. You likely know someone (or ARE someone) whose thinking powers are slipping. So, this is important. Won’t you join in?

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