What’s a great way to educate the public about dementia and its impact on communities? An online series of brief videos that highlight how people can help individuals with dementia and their care partners navigate their environments is one place to start. An initiative known as Dementia Friends USA is doing just that as part of their mission to create more dementia-friendly communities.
The concept originated in the United Kingdom, where 1.7 million people are certified Dementia Friends.
Here in the United States, ChangingAging Tour sponsors in Santa Clara County, Calif., are a shining example of a community that is working hard to make its surroundings more dementia friendly by incorporating the Dementia Friends program. The effort is part of the county’s initiative to become designated as dementia friendly through Dementia Friendly America (DFA), as well as age-friendly through AARP and the World Health Organization, by July 2017.
In fact, Santa Clara County was one of DFA’s pilot communities in in 2015, according to Diana Miller, project manager for the county’s Seniors’ Agenda program. Their crusade to promote Dementia Friends began about a year ago, when representatives from Japan and the UK introduced the concept to them.
“People really resonated with the Dementia Friends initiative presentation, so we decided to adopt it,” says Miller. “Making it easier was the fact that DFA was getting a license to launch in the United States.”
The official unveiling of the county’s effort began last month with a standing-room only crowd of 200 people representing 25 organizations. President of the Board of Supervisors for Santa Clara County Dave Cortese proudly showed off his Dementia Friend certificate, says Miller, and the group has since committed to a goal of encouraging 5,000 county residents to do the same.
Miller is already putting a dent in the goal by urging all of her coworkers in the Department of Aging and Adult Services to get certified. “I’ve encouraged everyone in our programs to become a Dementia Friend,” she says.
Also in attendance at Dementia Friends launch was Heather Lerner, executive director of the Happy Hollow Foundation and founder of the Senior Safari Walkabout at the Happy Hollow Park & Zoo in San Jose. She was so impressed with it she became a Dementia Friend herself and convinced her husband to follow suit.
“Dementia Friends is a really simple, awareness-building tool that encourages all of us to take a moment, slow down, be patient, and spend a little time interacting with those that need a little compassion and understanding to remain as independent as possible for as long possible,” Lerner says.
Lerner notes that the videos are easy to watch, take very little time, and leave the viewer with the idea that they can help just by being aware citizens. “You get the gist pretty quickly about how and when to offer help,” she adds. “I am a huge fan and advocate of anything that chips away at our long-held and outdated viewpoints around cognitive function.”
When I began working on this assignment there were 5,351 Dementia Friends in the United States, according to the organization’s website.
I am now the 5,352nd Dementia Friend and I have encouraged my daughter and friends to become certified. It was indeed easy, educational, and brief, taking just 10 minutes to complete. Now it’s your turn! Click here to get certified and report back to us in the comments below.
It’s true, almost anyone can find the time to do it, which is a small price to pay for turning understanding into action and making a difference in your community. The ChangingAging Tour’s Disrupt Dementia performance will feature additional tools and resources from Dementia Friendly America.