Leading the nation in the creation and proliferation of dementia-friendly communities is quite a responsibility to bear, but the Land of 10,000 Lakes has made it look somewhat easy with the implementation of more than 43 such communities in the span of just four years.
In fact, Minnesota is basecamp for the national collaborative known as Dementia-Friendly America (DFA), thanks to the efforts of more than 35 organizations and a panoply of toolkits, best practices, training videos, and guides created and honed via testing and research, as well as an advisory committee of experts and luminaries.
“We are the model for the national effort and the toolkit and best practices are really the model for the country since we are the first state in the U.S. to be doing this work,” explains Emily Farah-Miller, who works as a program developer and co-executive lead for ACT on Alzheimer’s, one of DFA’s partner organizations. “It’s been an absolutely tremendous learning process and along the way we’ve had lots of opportunities to improve our toolkit and how we provide technical assistance to communities to help them work toward becoming dementia friendly.”
The 43 communities in the Gopher State vary in size and scope, notes Farah-Miller, from populations of 800 to well over 100,000 people. “They are in metro, urban, and rural areas and they are all over the state, from the very northernmost spot to the southernmost spot,” she says, adding that they are very unique in the work that they do because the toolkit is focused on community engagement.
So what do dementia-friendly communities look like? In Minnesota, the movement has led to the development of a variety of meaningful opportunities for community engagement and education that include memory cafés, a play in Spanish to help increase awareness of dementia, an intergenerational dance hall, book displays at local libraries, a local leaders forum to stimulate community conversation around Alzheimer’s disease, and a chorus for individuals with dementia and their caregivers, among many other programs.
According to the Dementia Friendly Toolkit Overview, communities are encouraged to progress through four phases as they journey to become dementia friendly: Convene, Engage, Analyze, and Act. An assessment of the community’s needs and gaps, which begins in phase two, is a key component of the process, says Farah-Miller. “The actions that communities take are not only based on an assessment they do but they also hold community meetings, sharing their assessment findings,” she explains.
When conveners share their findings with community members they are also encouraged to ask them for input and analysis based on those findings. The results, says Farah-Miller are individualized because they are based on the community members involved.
Also imperative to the development of a successful dementia-friendly community is convening a broad representation of the community, says Olivia Mastry, DFA cofounder.
“Every sector in the community needs to do its part—financial, legal, business, clinical, caregiving,” she says. “To organize a whole community, you need to convene a very broad set of stakeholders around the table. That takes time and convincing, sometimes. But once you have them together, the process unfolds over a nine-month or so period.”
The DFA tools have been successfully deployed by dozens of communities across the country, says Mastry. The collaborative is now expecting more than 80 communities in 25 states to join them by the end of 2016. The group’s goal is to have dementia friendly initiatives in all 50 states by the end of 2017.
Mastry pointed to some particularly successful efforts in Wyoming, Alabama, Nevada, Arizona, and Maryland. “Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland in particular are doing great community-building work,” she notes.
Although the city of Denver is in the early stages of its dementia-friendly journey, the community is making strides as it moves toward completion of the four stages, says J.J. Johnson, the Denver convener. “We spent last January and some of February getting organized, and we now have a steering community. In March and April, we went out to the community to seek some data through surveys,” she says, noting that some of the gaps identified in the metro Denver area are in government, business, legal, financial, and the faith communities.
“We are now brainstorming with groups in each sector, and presenting the gaps and asking for input to resolve them,” she says. In one meeting, Johnson says the group came up with more than 45 ideas in 90 minutes about what they can do to help.
The next step, she says, is to vet the ideas and begin working out implementation of them. “Eventually, I see this morphing into dementia-friendly Colorado,” she says.
Dr. Bill Thomas and his traveling team of disrupters will be in Minneapolis, Minn., on Sept. 19 and Denver Sept. 23 with the Age of Disruption Tour, where they will host the “non-fiction theater” performances Disrupt Dementia and Life’s Most Dangerous Game, featuring musicians Nate Silas Richardson and Samite Mulondo and gerontologist Jennifer Carson and activist Kyrié Carpenter.
If you would like to get involved in making your community dementia friendly, visit DFA’s Get Involved page.
How to creating dementia-friendly communities:
A YouTube video of the Tempe, Ariz. Action group: