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Dementia Friendly America Has Provided County With Tools

The Office for the Aging staff and I want to express our sincerest condolences to the family of Diana Chase, the woman with dementia who went missing last month and was later found deceased.

We want to assure the family that you did nothing wrong by keeping your wife/mom at home where she was surrounded by familiar things, her routine, and the love of her family. Most people with dementia or any chronic disease do best in a familiar environment, following a regular routine, surrounded by familiar people. It is even more important for people with dementia because their changing environment can increase confusion and upset the person. Routine activities are embedded deep in the brain and those stay with the person the longest. This tragedy, however, makes us wonder what we as a community could do to better to support people with dementia and their families.

Currently there is a lot of stigma associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia. Because of fear and misunderstanding about the disease, friends stop visiting and the person with the disease stops going to church, grocery stores, or anywhere in public. They become isolated in their homes when they need human contact and the support of friends/community the most. In the early stages of the disease, it is very difficult to realize what is happening. There are personality changes, people often repeat themselves, they tell stories that are their reality but not ours. In some cases, they may lose the ability to filter saying whatever is on their mind even if it is hurtful to someone else, and they may adopt strange habits. The caregiver probably feels this stigma the most as they get questioned about the strange behavior or are blatantly told not to bring the person with them next time. We all have a role to play in preventing another tragedy by making our community dementia friendly.

Earlier this year, Chautauqua became the first county in NY to join the Dementia Friendly America movement. We saw people who were living alone with the disease almost lose their homes to foreclosure, others being evicted from senior housing, and still others falling through the system cracks because of misunderstanding and a lack of community support. Several of our OFA staff are caring for their own family members with dementia so we know the daily struggles facing caregivers. Joining Dementia Friendly America has given us tools to educate the community about Alzheimer’s and dementia, but we can’t do this alone. We need everyone’s help.

Here is what you can do. First become a Dementia Friend. Dementia Friends USA (dementiafriendsusa.org) has short videos showing what you can do when faced with someone who possibly has dementia. What to do at the library, at a restaurant, and as a first responder. Once you watch 2 or more videos you can submit your name to be counted as a Dementia Friend. You can also print out a certificate and display it at your work or business and encourage others to do the same. Share a picture of yourself and your certificate on social media. Second, learn the 10 signs of dementia (alz.org) and how this differs from normal aging so you can offer constructive assistance when you suspect someone has dementia. The Offices for the Aging (OFA) locally and across NY have resources to support caregivers and people with dementia. Many OFAs, like ours, work hand in hand with the Alzheimer’s Association. If you suspect dementia, encourage the person affected to see a doctor and be tested. There is not one cause of dementia. Untreated diseases like high BP, diabetes, and urinary tract infection can also affect brain function and thinking and present with similar symptoms. So it is important to be screened and treated for these problems.

Next you can join our Dementia Friendly Action Team. This group meets monthly to strategize on how to spread the word about dementia and provide more in-depth training to people and businesses after watching the Dementia Friends videos. Anyone can join, including people living with dementia, caregivers, and concerned citizens. You don’t have to attend every meeting but we equip you with information so you can spread the word on your own or join others in the group. We have already increased the number of Dementia Friends by 550 people and trained 20 organizations. This year’s goal is to have 1000 Dementia Friends but we need many more to truly make Chautauqua County dementia friendly.

There are 5.8 million Americans currently living with dementia and this number will rise to near 14 million by 2050. One in 3 seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the US, killing more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined. More than 16 million people are caring for someone with dementia. Early diagnosis can help but only 16% of people receive regular cognitive assessments to check for the disease. Chances are, we all be touched by Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in our lifetime. If you want to help, share the facts and help us make Chautauqua County a dementia friendly community for all. For more information about Office for the Aging programs and services or for anything mentioned in the article, call the NY Connects Helpline at 753-4582, 363-4582, or 661-7582. Remember we are here to help you.

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