Dementia-Friendly Communities

March 17, 2014

Coping with dementia can be difficult for an aging parent, as well as their family caregiver.  One of the greatest and earliest obstacles can be the loss of independence and isolation as the senior living with dementia draws inward when their interaction in a community contributes to disorientation.

In 2013, more than 5 million Americans were living with Alzheimer’s Disease.  By the year 2050, up to 6 million Americans will have the disease.  One community in Wisconsin is preparing for that staggering statistic with a compassionate, informed and intentional program designed to assist those living with dementia by remaining active and comfortable in their community.

A purple angel sticker is displayed in dementia-friendly businesses in Watertown, WI

A purple angel sticker is displayed in dementia-friendly businesses in Watertown, WI

Jan Zimmerman, RN, founder of the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition is bringing  residents, shopkeepers, employers, and seniors together in a united effort to make their town the nation’s first dementia-friendly community. 

The Watertown, Wisconsin town is located outside Madison, and its 24,000 residents are committed to supporting their seniors and family caregivers.  The goal of establishing a dementia-friendly community is rooted in basic values and a focus on maintaining dignity and independence of seniors living with dementia by:

  • Assisting residents in becoming educated about dementia, its symptoms and how to interact with a dementia patient.
  • Training business owners and shopkeepers how to interact with customers with dementia.
  • Helping those with memory loss to remain independent as long as possible by offering support, tools, and assistance.

When local businesses receive free in-house training, they are invited to display a purple angel in their window as a symbol that their employees and staff are trained in how to interact with dementia patients.

For instance, ordering from a menu in a busy café can be overwhelming for a senior coping with dementia.  A dementia-friendly trained waitress would guide the customer through a series of choices that are in manageable chunks.  Such as, “Would you like a hot or cold beverage?” and “Would you prefer tea or soda?”  These questions can be easier to answer than a list of a dozen drink choices.

We think it’s great that an entire town is focused on becoming a dementia-friendly community and we hope to see a broader movement toward helping seniors feel comfortable and safe in their own communities.


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