Agencies that work with the elderly and their families have begun planning events and training to make Richmond County “dementia friendly.”
What county Department of Social Services Director Robbie Hall calls the “big, public ‘Notice us!’” event will be an Alzheimer’s-awareness walk — or, maybe, run; it hasn’t been decided — on Oct. 20.
Leading up to that will be training sessions for caregivers, agency representatives and others who wish to become “dementia friends” (merely knowledgeable) or “dementia champions” (trainers themselves).
“When we get more trainers, then we will spread out in the community,” said Jacqueline Welch, Richmond County’s director of Aging Services. This week, Welch set up the first training for agency representatives, so reaching the public is a ways away.
“Now that we’re doing (training), I feel like people will reach out to us,” Welch said.
Welch and Hall say they already have heard from representatives of the Civitan Club and Leath Memorial Library that their organizations wish to become involved. And Welch has developed an application for businesses that “are willing to move forward” with the budding movement.
In the meantime, those planning the push to make the county “friendly” to those with dementia — by providing and expanding services, and educating the community — will scope out the Cancer Society’s Relay for Life on May 4 to see how such things work. And they will commission the printing of cling stickers for the windows of businesses that vow to learn how to be more welcoming of those with dementia.
The actions have earned praise from Mark Hensley of the N.C. Division of Aging and Adult Services, who said when he presented the first of three recent workshops on understanding dementia that the county was “prime” for awareness programs. (Hensley since has taken a position with AARP.)
The programs 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, Hensley said. And they would allow caretakers more flexibility in where they could take their elderly charges.
According to the 2010 federal census, 14.3 percent of those 65 and older living in Richmond County suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the main type of dementia. By 2025, state projections show, that percentage will rise to 15.2 percent.
Dementia can take as many as 50 forms, experts say, with Alzheimer’s disease being the most prevalent, at 65 percent to 70 percent of dementia cases. In North Carolina, Alzheimer’s 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.
Several North Carolina cities and counties already have taken steps toward dementia friendliness, as Richmond County is doing now. Orange County has OCCARES; Wilmington, Dementia-Friendly WNC; and Durham, Dementia Inclusive Durham.
Wake Forest is one of the first communities in North Carolina to pursue the international “dementia friendly” designation begun by the United Kingdom’s Alzheimer’s Society. The city has held a number of workshops, and most downtown businesses in Wake Forest have stickers in their windows certifying that they have trained their staffs on how to act when they encounter someone with dementia.
But awareness is only the first step. Communities also must think about providing 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 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.
Hall of DSS said supporting those with dementia also would require everyday changes in things most people don’t even think about. For example, do agency and business brochures use big enough font sizes and colors that the elderly or color blind can see well?
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. Both of those bottom lines are likely to increase.
Those interested in becoming involved in any way with the campaign for “dementia friendliness” may call Welch at 910-997-4491.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]