Last week, Mike Belleville, one of the guys in my Alzheimer’s support group, and I told eerily similar stories involving Apple Stores, those gleaming technology palaces where all the employees wear matching shirts and none look older than twenty-five. While our circumstances were slightly different, we basically experienced the same frustration.
In my case, after a period of growing irritation, I phoned Paula for help, and a few minutes later found what I was looking for. Mike, on the other hand, disclosed to his salesperson that he has Alzheimer’s. And, just like that, the salesperson became much more helpful.
On Monday, Mike and I attended a conference on the “Dementia Friendly” movement, which originated in Britain and is now picking up momentum in the United States. As Olivia Mastry, the featured speaker at the event, noted, the approach is based partly on the Americans With Disabilities Act, the landmark legislation that became law in 1990.
“What is the curb cut for cognitive impairment?” Mastry asked her audience. “Most importantly, it’s relational. It’s whether we can walk with each other, support each other, and be equipped to relate to people; it’s clinical services to which you can find your way that are equipped all the way with signage. And it’s what people need to know when they see differences.”
Mastry noted that her organization seeks to draw in not just people in health care but also those who work in related fields, such as municipal government, which coordinates assistance for military veterans, and providers of long-term care for people with dementia. And, perhaps most important, the people who are experiencing dementia themselves.
Nationally, according to Mastry, the annual cost of dementia care is over $36 billion—and that doesn’t include the service supplied by family members. I heard one young woman who serves as caregiver for a parent lament that the parent’s care has created a heavy financial burden for the caregiver herself, in terms of lost income.
In Minnesota, a statewide dementia-friendly plan was introduced in 2010 and now serves as a national model. It took two more years to work out the details.
“The concept was to put in everything we know and organize it in a way that people could use it in a useful way,” Mastry said. “It’s researched, and evidence-based. We know that the best thing we can do is put all the best practices in one place.
“How does this catalyst lead to a national movement?” she asked her audience. “Well, you do that. This is owned and driven by all of you, and all you need to do is the next step.”
During the break for lunch, I encountered a former colleague of mine at the Massachusetts Municipal Association who is now the assistant town manager in the town of Westborough. We agreed that our former employer, the advocacy and professional organization on behalf of the state’s cities and towns, would be well-suited to champion this cause.
To learn more about Dementia-friendly communities, go to dfamerica.org.