Richmond County has taken the first step in a process intended to make the county friendly to those stricken by dementia and their caregivers.
Statistics seem to show that the effort hasn’t come too soon.
According to the 2010 federal census, 14.3 percent of those 65 and older living in the county suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the main type of dementia. By 2025, state projections show, that percentage will rise to 15.2 percent in the county.
“Richmond County is prime” for programs that would allow those with dementia to shop without fear of strange looks from neighbors or threats of action by police who might not understand their behavior, Mark Hensley of the N.C. Division of Aging and Adult Services told health-care providers and others attending the first of three local conferences on making the county “dementia capable.”
The third in the series — “Understanding and Responding to Dementia-Related Behavior” — will be April 12.
Dementia can take as many as 50 forms, Hensley said, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most prevalent, at 65 percent to 70 percent of dementia cases. In North Carolina, Alzheimer’s also is the fifth-leading cause of death, behind heart disease, cancer, lower-respiratory diseases and cerebrovascular disease.
Yet despite the prevalence of the disease, many people don’t know how to respond when they encounter it. As Hensley asked: “If we saw someone wandering away … what could we do?”
Several North Carolina cities and counties already have taken steps toward dementia friendliness. Orange County has OCCARES; Wilmington, Dementia-Friendly WNC; and Durham, Dementia Inclusive Durham.
Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones has high praise for the Senior Information & Networking Group of Wake Forest, or SING-WF, which has sponsored seminars, training and business interactions for more than two years.
Having worked on the issue for several years, the community is one of the first in North Carolina to pursue the international “dementia friendly” designation begun by the United Kingdom’s Alzheimer’s Society.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to support a segment of our citizens,” Jones said this week. “If we can make our community sensitive to the fact that people have (dementia), but they still should be part of our community, that’s what we would like to do.”
Within the past several months, SING participants have approached area businesses, asking them to attend classes on dementia sensitivity. When the business representatives finish the class, they earn a sticker to put in the window of their concerns.
That way, caregivers can, say, take a relative with dementia out to lunch and not worry that the server will react poorly if the relative behaves differently from other patrons.
Most downtown businesses in Wake Forest have stickers in their windows, Jones said.
But being dementia friendly involves far more than stickers, advocates say. It means offering:
⦁ residential settings for those suffering memory loss;
⦁ dementia-aware legal and financial planning;
⦁ options for independent living and community engagement;
⦁ dementia-friendly transportation;
⦁ dementia-aware government services such as police and fire response;
⦁ and, of course, dementia-sensitive health care that also seeks out the underserved.
Such efforts require a network comprising businesses, churches, civic and governmental organizations, financial and legal enterprises, and human-services agencies working toward a common agenda.
And they cost money. In fiscal 2016, Richmond County spent $31 million on social services for those 60 and older, for such things as adult protective services, transportation and medical assistance. That’s the government and human-services sector of the network, and it counts only money — not hours devoted.
So, how might businesses, churches, civic organizations, and financial and legal enterprises contribute?
The first step is awareness.