ADRC seeks to educate and train community to be dementia friendly
A movement has begun in Portage County to educate local businesses and train staff and management to identify and properly handle people with dementia without shaming them or restricting their ability to socialize in public.
The Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC) of Portage County is participating in a global initiative, the Purple Angel Initiative, to make the Portage County a “dementia friendly community.”
“So, the first thing is: what’s the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease? Because you hear a lot of people talk Alzheimer’s and then you hear people talk about dementia like they’re two different things. Dementia is actually an umbrella term. It’s the broad-based term that refers to Alzheimer’s and Lewy body disease and vascular dementias, frontal temporal dementias – there are many, many different kinds of dementia,” said Cindy Piotrowski, ADRC director.
Dementia is often misunderstood because it’s sometimes hard to explain or categorize. One of the commonly used ways to describe it is “making a bad decision once in a while,” but Piotrowski said she doesn’t quite agree with that because that’s more a symptom of being a person.
“I like to explain dementia as the difference between forgetting where you put your car keys and forgetting what your car keys are for,” Piotrowski said.
“The Alzheimer’s Association has put together these 10 signs for dementia, of things to looks for like memory changes that disrupt your life – again, losing your car keys and forgetting what they’re for – difficulty completing tasks, (etc.),” she said. “But it’s the idea that there’s some sort of deterioration in your decision-making ability going on.”
Piotrowski said it’s an important and timely topic because the number of people with dementia is growing.
“Right now, we have an estimated $226 billion spent on Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related costs throughout the nation,” Piotrowski said. “And that’s anticipated to grow to $1.1 trillion by 2050.”
“In 2005, the percentage of (Portage County’s) population age 65 or older was at 12 percent or less, we were one of the younger counties in the state,” she said. “By 2035, we catch up pretty well and we go to being less than 12 percent to more than double that at 24 to 27 percent. So, that’s a lot of people in our community.”
Piotrowski said the ADRC asked people with varying degrees of dementia what they value most, and one of the main responses they got was that they wanted to feel useful and not be isolated.
“You have to remember that dementia is a journey, just like life’s a journey. You start at one point and are in a very different place where you end up. The progression of the disease for most people, not all people, but most people is gradual,” she said. “It starts out slowly. Early-onset Alzheimer’s is a lot more dangerous and goes much faster, but for most seniors it starts slowly.
“They still have a good handle on their life when they are initially diagnosed. So, they want to be useful, they want to be able to travel, to shop, visit places, manage day-to-day tasks and run their own errands,” Piotrowski said.
This is why the ADRC is working to make Portage County a dementia-friendly community.
“What is a dementia-friendly community? We’re welcoming, we’re inclusive, people have choices, we celebrate our diversity, abilities and skills, we have some community pride in what we’re doing and everyone gets to contribute,” Piotrowski said.
The first step the ADRC will undertake is to educate the public and volunteer businesses about dementia patients with the ultimate goal of improving their quality of life.
“Our goal at the Aging & Disability Resource Center is to actually help people to stay in their homes. We don’t want them to enter the public-funded, long-term care facilities. We work very hard to keep them healthy and active in their own homes for as long as possible,” she said.
The ADRC is only one element to making Portage County dementia-friendly. Other organizations, like the Stevens Point Police Department (SPPD) and emergency medical services, can also help by training their officers to better handle situations with people suffering from dementia.
“For us at the Police Department, dementia is something that impacts us on a weekly basis. We get calls to various places, whether it’s somebody’s private residence or somebody’s gone wandering, we have programs in place such as Safe and Sound and Project Lifesaver to help locate those people as quickly as possible,” said SPPD Sgt. Paul Piotrowski, Cindy’s husband and the community resource officer who facilitates safety and security for dementia patients in the community.
The Safe and Sound program distributed photos to officer’s squad cars to help identify individuals and Project Lifesaver supplies people who have a tendency to wander with GPS transponders for authorities to quickly track them.
“We’ve also done some updated training with our officers in December, specifically with dementia. That supplemented officers’ training in crisis intervention, we also received some training in recognizing the signs of dementia,” Paul said. “When we arrive at people’s house, officers know to look for Vital Information Program packets on people’s refrigerators which lists their current medical diagnoses.”
Businesses can also contribute by enrolling their staff and management in training through the ADRC.
Tony Patton, District 8 alderperson and manager of Grazies’ Italian Restaurant, was the first to sign up for the training and his business is the first in Portage County to receive the distinction of “Dementia-Friendly Business.”
Training involves top-down approaches to better servicing customers with dementia, as well as helpful advice and tips for employees to properly navigate through situations to avoid an incident.
“One of the things we tell people is if you’re talking to somebody and they’re talking about ‘Ike,’ then go with it. Let President Eisenhower be the president that day. It doesn’t matter, it’s not worth upsetting them and arguing with them,” Cindy said. “Instead, let’s meet them where they’re at. Correcting them just aggravates them. It aggravates most people when they get corrected, but it you don’t have the capacity to understand where the correction comes from it’s that much more frustrating.
“The idea is to raise awareness on all the types of dementia, show support for people with dementia and remove the fear, isolation and stigmas because, I don’t know about you, I like to go out to dinner,” Cindy said. “For many people with dementia, they feel like they can’t go or their family members feel like they can’t take them because they’re afraid of how other people might act.”
Businesses interested in becoming a dementia-friendly business can call the ADRC at 715-346-1401.