Caring Conversations: Dementia Friendly Communities

Posted on 11/25/20 by Linda Lindberg

Rounding out November as Caregivers’ Month, AARP Virginia’s Lily Liu hosted Melissa Andrews of LeadingAge Virginia on November 20, 2020, in a Caring Conversations discussion on Dementia Friendly Communities.

LeadingAge is a national charitable organization whose 5,000+ members and partners include not-for-profit organizations representing the entire field of aging services, 38 state partners, hundreds of businesses, consumer groups, foundations, and research partners. LeadingAge Virginia’s mission is advocacy and education to promote positive aging for all Virginians. For more information, visit LeadingAge Virginia.

One of their key advocacy programs is Dementia Friendly Virginia, an initiative of Dementia Friendly America. More than five million Americans and 15 million caregivers are currently living with Alzheimer’s Disease. Dementia Friendly America works with emerging communities to create an action plan, working across community sectors to foster dementia friendliness. In addition to local Departments of Aging and senior service organizations, targeted local partners often include first responders and faith communities, since these groups are typically among the first to encounter and identify residents with dementia issues.

Andrews explained that one of the purposes of the program is provide support for the main caregiver. Caregiving can be isolating, and caregivers for Alzheimer’s disease often face the stigma of fear and lack of education from others. There is a need to help caregivers understand that it’s okay to talk about what they are going through. Dementia Friendly communities work to meet caregivers and those under their care in the community where they are and help them have a positive quality of life.

Several communities in Virginia have already committed to the Dementia Friendly movement, including Herndon, Lexington, Central Virginia, Arlington, Alexandria, Leesburg/Loudoun County, Fairfax, and Williamsburg. If you are interested in sparking interest in your community, start by reviewing the DFA Community Toolkit or contact info@dfamerica.org.

In addition to the community movement, LeadingAge also supports a related movement for individual involvement, Dementia Friends Virginia. This movement provides individuals with the training necessary to become Dementia Champions, enabling them to help community members understand dementia and learn about the little things they can do to make a difference both for those living with dementia and their caregivers.

In the past two years, Dementia Friends Virginia has trained 549 champions, who in turn have conducted over 4,000 community information sessions. Participants range from high school students to seniors. The free, 3-hour training session, which is conducted virtually, provides participants with the tools they need to become champions. For more information or to sign up for a training session, visit Dementia Friends Virginia.

Liu and Andrews ended the conversation by emphasizing that everyone has a story – stories are the equalizer that bonds us together. We need to acknowledge and value caregivers, as they have learned so much from their journeys that can become learning experiences for all of us.

You can view this Caring Conversation on Facebook. For more information on caregiver resources, visit. AARP’s Caregiving Resources page.

This story is provided by AARP Virginia. Visit the AARP Virginia page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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