Imagine for a moment that you have recently noticed you are not remembering things as well as you used to. You can’t find familiar words when speaking, and you have difficulty organizing the events and responsibilities of daily life. You see your doctor and she orders a few tests. The results come back, and you are diagnosed with early-stage dementia. What would you feel? What would you do? Who would you tell? Where would you look for support?
Receiving a diagnosis of dementia is an experience that thousands of older adults encounter each year. Today, more than 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s. By 2050, this number is projected to rise to nearly 13 million. Moreover, a person diagnosed with dementia can expect to live with the disease for an average of seven to ten years. Despite the fact that so many people have been living with dementia for so many years, there is still a significant stigma attached to, and much misunderstanding about, dementia in our culture. Older adults fear a diagnosis of dementia more than any other health issue, including cancer. This fear stems in part from the recognition that when one has dementia, others may judge them, shun them, or withdraw from them.
The Dementia Friendly Community movement was started in the early 2000s to help change the experience of living with dementia. Inspired by the philosophy and strategies of the initiatives that helped make our society more accessible and welcoming to people living with physical disabilities, the Dementia Friendly Community movement focuses on fostering awareness, understanding, support, and inclusion for people living with dementia—and their care partners. In our community, Dementia Friendly Lehigh Valley (DFLV) has been working for a decade to educate and engage people from every part of our community in education and action to minimize the stigma and foster support for our neighbors living with dementia.
DFLV provides a range of resources to businesses, health care providers, faith communities, first responders, and other community members, to help them recognize and respond sensitively to people living with dementia. Through professional training, “Dementia Friends” training, caregiver support services, a quarterly newsletter, and a website filled with information and resources, DFLV is working to make the Lehigh Valley a friendly place for our neighbors with dementia. Our vision is that through the work of DFLV, people will engage with and adopt a dementia-friendly philosophy, making the Lehigh Valley a place where living with dementia does not mean the loss of connection, community, or favorite activities. Our goal is to ensure that our community provides an environment in which people living with dementia can LIVE WELL, in spite of the disease.
So now, let’s go back to the imagined scenario. If you are diagnosed with dementia, it will be a difficult reality to live with. But as our community becomes more dementia friendly, it will mean that those who live with the disease can still go out to the restaurant, enjoy Musikfest, attend church, shop, bank, and talk to their friends and neighbors about the experience—all without the fear of being misunderstood or ostracized. In a dementia-friendly community, our friends, neighbors, and fellow community members will be understanding, supportive, and willing to make the kinds of accommodations that allow you to live life to the fullest. It is this vision that keeps DFLV working toward our goals.
To learn more about DFLV, please visit our website at www.dementialv.org.