City poised to become 1st dementia-friendly community
Lori La Bey, founder of Alzheimer's Speaks, led a free educational session on how Watertown can become a dementia aware and dementia friendly community Tuesday evening at Madison College.

Through the combined efforts of Heritage Homes and Alzheimer's Speaks, Watertown is on its way to becoming the country's first dementia aware and dementia friendly community.

As part of the movement, local businesses are taking steps to form the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition and launch the city's first Memory Cafe.

Dementia Friendly Campaign

The Dementia Friendly Campaign kicked off Tuesday evening with a free educational session for the community presented by Lori La Bey, founder of Alzheimer's Speaks. Nearly 35 people attended the event held at Madison College.

La Bey, a Minnesota native, is a global expert on dementia who has learned to embrace the disease in a positive fashion, drawing from personal experiences with her mother who is in the end stages of Alzheimer's.

The presentation stressed why it is important to be aware of the needs of someone living with dementia and also focused on tips for how people can be part of a dementia friendly community.

Statistics published by the Alzheimer's Association were shared at the event.

As of 2010, 35.6 million people have dementia and the global cost of dementia is an estimated $604 billion. With 7.7 million new cases each year, there is a new case every four seconds in the world. In fact, there are nearly 110,000 cases of dementia in Wisconsin alone.

These staggering figures became a call to action for La Bey and Jan Zimmerman, RN, administrator of Heritage Homes Assisted Living and Memory Care, who recognized that people have a choice to either sit idly or change the way society views those who have dementia.

Dementia is often seen by many as a disease of old people, but La Bey said it is actually a disease of society.

"We have to tear down the stigmas and remove the isolation and fear (surrounding dementia)," she said. "The face of dementia has changed."

She compared dementia to a cold that does not go away.

"Dementia is a wide range of symptoms, not a specific disease," she said.

La Bey also explained how dementia, which is cognitive decline, interferes with daily life and is overwhelming.

"Will you be the next to forget or the next to be forgotten?" she said.

She then asked the audience to brainstorm similarities between dementia, the flu epidemic, mass shootings and the fiscal cliff.

Someone answered that they can affect any person of any background anywhere, while another mentioned none of them make sense. La Bey responded that all of those things affect care culture.

"They are the result of not caring very well for specific individuals," she said.

Those who volunteered their thoughts were given a rubber chicken stress toy, which La Bey later explained acts as a reminder of her signature story about Betty the bald chicken.

La Bey told portions of "The Bald Chicken Story," complete with illustrations, as an anecdote for the process of Alzheimer's.

The story is about a chicken named Betty who gets plucked of her feathers and outcast from her farm. When Betty first noticed she lost a feather, she kept it a secret because she did not want to worry her family and friends. Months later she got scared because she kept losing feathers and barely recognized herself anymore. Those on the farm became afraid they might catch whatever was making her feathers fall out, so they stopped talking to her and inviting her places. Betty started to hang out at the edge of the farm alone, and one day she tripped while crying and fell off a cliff. She thought she would die, but at the bottom of the hill others welcomed her and still saw the beauty in her.

La Bey posed the question, if Betty were to return to the farm, how would she be treated by those who once ignored her?

"They have a choice to pity her or celebrate all she has been in life," she said. "What would you do when your friends have gotten sick: embrace it like those in the ravine did, or just walk away?"

La Bey then encouraged everyone to create a safe and supportive environment for those with dementia.

"It's about building unity through community, not about having all the answers. It's about joining forces, trying your best and knowing it's OK to fail. It's about being willing to have a conversation and reframing how we care for one another," said La Bey. "Collaboration must become a staple of our culture."

She advised the audience to understand, appreciate and accept the needs of people they are caring for.

"Look for fear triggers -- yours and theirs. Many tasks can be removed or done differently to change their reactions," she said, adding that it may be necessary for people to shift their mindsets and routines. "Our current attitude plus past experiences equals perceptions, and our perceptions trigger reactions."

"It is not our emotions that are good or bad, it is how you act on them and how you are reacting to your environment," she said. "Just look, listen, act and have a conversation. These are not big things, but they have a big impact."

La Bey said it is important to focus on the present and look for or create joy.

"We remember what causes us tears, fears and joys, but we tend to miss joys when we are preoccupied with the past and future," she said.

One of the ways people with dementia are finding joy is by attending Memory Cafes. These informal social gatherings help those touched by dementia to laugh and learn, pick up tips, get rid of embarrassment, relax and just enjoy coming together.

Businesses form awareness coalition

While the goal of the Dementia Friendly Campaign is to enable those with dementia to remain a vital part of the community, it also aims to educate businesses about what they can do to remove the stigma of having a diagnosis of dementia.

To achieve this goal, Jan Zimmerman, R.N., administrator of Heritage Homes Assisted Living and Memory Care, is hoping to create a vibrant, active coalition of businesses for those living with dementia and community members who support those with dementia. The Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition is one of the first steps to empowering others and creating an inclusive community.

Therefore, Heritage Homes is asking area businesses to sign a pledge to become dementia friendly.

So far, six area organizations have signed the pledge, including Achieve Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, Advanced Family Dentistry, Alzheimer’s Association, Jefferson County ADRC, River View Assisted Living and Towne Cinema.

In doing so, businesses commit to learning more about how to help employees become more dementia aware. These businesses are asked to assess their environment to see how it can be made more dementia friendly and easier to navigate for a person with memory loss.

Businesses are also asked to encourage employees to attend training sessions and read information material by the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition.

Zimmerman estimated there are approximately 100-150 businesses in the city that have potential to become dementia friendly and dementia aware.

“We are aiming by the end of 2014 to have 50-60 businesses pledge and receive and provide training for their employees,” she said.

When at least 50 percent of the businesses in Watertown have made the pledge and taken the proper training steps, the city may be one of the first dementia aware and dementia friendly communities in the country.

Businesses are encouraged to join the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition and should display the Purple Angel logo in the window of their business to let people know they are dementia aware and dementia friendly.

The Purple Angel symbol, which originated in the United Kingdom, represents a guardian over those living with dementia, as well as their family and friends, and a helper to those working to raise awareness of dementia around the world.

Coalition members agree to commit to becoming dementia aware by learning about dementia and how to help employees become sensitive to the needs of a person living with dementia and the people that support them. Members also do what they are able to meet the goal of making Watertown a dementia aware, dementia friendly community.

These businesses may fit within the following organization sectors: communication, education, emergency services, faith groups, finance, health care, hospitality, local authorities, membership organization, recreation, retail, transport and utility.

According to a press release issued by Heritage Homes, Zimmerman and her staff will provide education to Watertown’s business community to give business owners and employees the tools to effectively assist those with dementia. For example, Zimmerman will educate restaurant workers to limit the number of choices that are presented to a guest.

Zimmerman added part of her vision is to have identification cards available for those with dementia or their support persons, which can be presented at a restaurant or bank, for example, so employees will instantly know they need to change their service approach. It is a more subtle way to let people know additional help is needed should the person wish to share that information.

The first Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition meeting will be held Thursday, Nov. 14, at 8 a.m. at Heritage Homes Independent Living, 700 Welsh Road.

Any interested businesses are asked to contact Zimmerman at 920-567-2003 or jrzimmerman@tlha.org.

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