May is often known as the month of Mother’s Day and Cinco De Mayo, but it is also a time to recognize Older Americans Month.
Older Americans Month, which started in 1963, is emphasized by the Dementia Friends movement, which was created by the Alzheimer’s Society in the United Kingdom. In the Spring of 2021, the Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities and HOPE Dementia Support partnered with the University of Washington to bring Dementia Friends to Clark County, according to HOPE Program Manager Lynn Crawford.
“The reason (Dementia Friends) was started was in order to make the community aware of what dementia is,” Crawford said. “It’s twofold. One is to let people know what dementia is, and also to let them know how they can make a difference for the life of the people who have dementia and include them in the community.”
She said people can include dementia patients by “acknowledging their existence” and to “acknowledge the fact that even though they have dementia, they’re still there and they’re still a person.”
“I think one of the best examples of that is what I hear in my groups all the time about the fact that as soon as someone knows you have dementia, that all of a sudden people don’t talk to you, they talk to your caregiver. Basically, they act like you no longer exist,” Crawford said.
She also noted the stigma people with dementia often face, with many feeling “ashamed” or “embarrassed.”
Crawford said one in three people over the age of 80 develop the condition, which impacts an aging population with a shortage of accessible care.
“Right now in the state of Washington, we have about 120,000 people with dementia, and by 2040, it will be 140,000,” she said. “In a little less than 20 years, we’ll have a 17% increase in dementia in the state of Washington.”
She added the Dementia Friends program consists of one-hour “awareness sessions” that provide communities with information on what dementia is, what causes it, what it’s like to have the condition, and some things people can do to be a “Dementia Friend.” Crawford said over 400 people have participated in the sessions in the past year.
“Some of the things people can do to be a Dementia Friend are things like communication and understanding that it takes the person with dementia a little bit longer to be able to answer your questions,” she said. “Be patient and remember that they still have the ability to do certain things.”
Crawford mentioned those who complete the program are awarded a certificate of attendance, lapel pins, and yard signs stating, “I’m a Dementia Friend.”
On May 18, Crawford said HOPE met with the Clark County Commission on Aging to discuss what a dementia-friendly community could look like.
“This year, we’re going from the awareness sessions to creating dementia-friendly communities,” she said. “Things like making sure businesses are aware of what they can do for people with dementia, how banks deal with them, and how physicians could deal with them.”
On June 21, HOPE Dementia Support and CDM Caregiving Services will host a Dementia Resource Fair, which is also called the Longest Day by the Alzheimer’s Association. It will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. at 2300 Andresen Road, Vancouver. Ten vendors are set to appear at the event. Attendees will pay $5, with proceeds going to the Alzheimer’s Association.
A flier with more information will be released at a later time.
For more information about HOPE, go to HOPEdementiasup port.org.
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