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Creating a More Dementia-Friendly Community: Insights, Resources & Information Sessions

Posted on May 28, 2024 at 6:00 am

Guest post by Tara Hill Matthews

Recently, I was talking with a woman named Mary, who told me about her grandmother who was an independent woman throughout her life. Mary’s grandmother always told her that if she ever got dementia, she wanted to be taken to a facility and left there. She didn’t want her family to visit her because she wanted to be remembered as she was, not as someone with dementia.

Mary’s grandmother did get dementia near the end of her life and held true to that desire. When Mary went to visit her in the long-term care facility, her grandmother would turn toward the wall, refusing to speak with or even look at Mary. Mary desperately wanted to continue her relationship with her grandmother but eventually stopped visiting since it was clear her grandmother didn’t want her to.

Stories like this are too common. There is still significant stigma surrounding memory loss. This is not our fault. So many movies, books, and TV shows only share one side of dementia. And as a society, the way we talk about someone with dementia is quite different than the way we talk about someone with cancer or heart disease, for example.

But it is possible to have a full, meaningful life with dementia.

In fact, I’ve heard several people say that dementia has had some positive changes for their loved ones, such as a reduction in anxiety or more interest in spending time with loved ones. And most people living with dementia do not live in a long-term care facility.

Dementia is an umbrella term for diseases that affect memory and other thinking abilities. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, but vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy Bodies, and frontotemporal dementia also have significant impacts on people’s lives.

About 7 million people in the U.S. are living with dementia right now. This number is expected to almost double by 2060.

It has never been more important to understand what to do if you or someone you know is starting to experience the warning signs of dementia.

At Aging & Long Term Care of Eastern Washington (ALTCEW), our main messages around dementia are that it’s possible to live a full life with dementia, it’s best to get an early diagnosis, and there are several ways you can reduce your own risk of dementia.

Benefits of an Early Diagnosis

I’ve talked to many people who tell me that they’re worried about getting a diagnosis, either for themselves or someone else, because they worry that someone—such as their family or doctor—might take away their independence.

Ironically, though, getting an early diagnosis allows most people to keep their independence for longer and have more control over their lives. Below are some of the benefits of early diagnosis.

Medical Benefits

  • Access to more treatment options
    • Some signs of dementia may be caused by an easily treated medical condition like an infection or vitamin deficiency
    • Treatments for dementia are often more effective when you start them earlier in the progression of the disease
  • Prioritize health by making lifestyle changes
  • Participate in a wider variety of clinical trials
  • Plan before a crisis occurs

Legal Benefits

  • Decide how you would like care to look during every stage of the disease
  • Appoint a Power of Attorney
  • Update legal documents

Financial Benefits

  • Early diagnosis helps you save in medical costs
    • If those who get Alzheimer’s disease are diagnosed in the earliest stages, then the savings would be approximately $7 trillion in health and long-term care costs nationwide

Reducing the Risk of Dementia

There is no cure for dementia, and nothing is guaranteed to ensure that you won’t get dementia. However, according to two sources—the Alzheimer’s Association Risk Reduction site and The Lancet Commission’s 2020 Report—here are some of the top things you can do to reduce your risk of dementia:

  1. Keep learning. Formal education can help significantly reduce your risk of dementia, regardless of how old you are. GetSetUp offers free online courses on topics, such as using Zoom, cooking global with spice blends, and line dancing, to all Washington residents ages 60 and older. You can access free online courses from several universities, including Harvard and MIT. Community Colleges of Spokane also offer many courses to the public. And of course, you can access in-person and online classes at your local library, using such resources as Udemy, Gale Courses, LinkedIn Learning, and Creativebug.
  2. Treat hearing loss. Untreated hearing loss can increase your risk of dementia. You can now buy affordable hearing aids over the counter.
  3. Avoid traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). TBIs have a strong link to dementia. Wearing a seatbelt when driving, attending a fall prevention program, using a helmet when riding a bike, and avoiding driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs can all help prevent TBIs.
  4. Keep your heart healthy. What’s good for your heart is good for your brain. Avoiding or treating hypertension and diabetes, eating healthy, and getting enough physical activity all contribute to a healthy heart

What You Can Do Now

Become a Dementia Friend

Everyone can become a Dementia Friend! A Dementia Friend learns about dementia in an hour-long information session, then turns that understanding into action. We are offering Dementia Friends Information Sessions at nine SCLD libraries between June and September, with more planned through the end of the year.

You can also volunteer to make Spokane more dementia friendly by becoming a Dementia Friends Champion and leading one Dementia Friends information session per month.

Take Monthly Professional Trainings

If you work with people living with dementia, you can increase your familiarity with dementia by attending one of our monthly Dementia Caregivers Professional Training sessions, held at different SCLD libraries. You can also set up a training specifically for your group by emailing us at dementia@altcew.org.

Join the Spokane Regional Dementia Friendly Community

The Spokane Regional Dementia Friendly Community (SRDFC) is made up of volunteers in the community and includes professionals, people living with dementia, care partners, and others in our community who are concerned about the rapid growth of dementia. SRDFC’s mission is to create an equitable and inclusive community that is safe and supportive for people living with dementia and their care partners.

Access Resources

Our area has several local and state resources that are available for both people living with dementia and their care partners. Here are just a few:

Local Resources

  • Community Living Connections through ALTCEW
    • Call Community Living Connections at 509.960.7281 for:
      • One-on-one support with the Dementia Care Specialist
      • Assistance with difficult behaviors through the STAR-C program
      • More information about resources
  • Alzheimer’s Association
    • Call the 24/7 helpline at 1.800.272.3900
    • Call the local Washington-Idaho chapter at 509.207.7667
    • Visit the website at www.alz.org for resources including support groups, education sessions, articles, and planning tools
  • Local Spokane Roadmap and Dementia Resource List
    • A vetted list of support in the area, including care consultation, exercise programs, support groups, and legal assistance
  • Spokane County Library District
    • Check out Stay Sharp Kits about various topics to explore activities designed to help stimulate short-term memory and foster inter-generational bonding
    • Attend a Tuesday Memory Café to find support and connect with other caregivers and people experiencing memory loss at North Spokane Library

Statewide Resources

For more information about any of the action steps or resources above, you can email me at dementia@altcew.org.

Tara Hill Matthews

Tara Hill Matthews (she/her), the Dementia Resource Catalyst at ALTCEW, has been a healthcare trainer for 10 years. Having both worked in dementia care and watched family members experience dementia, she is passionate about reducing stigma, connecting families to resources, and advocating for an early diagnosis. Tara is a proud member of the Spokane Regional Dementia Friendly Community. She also likes playing the clarinet, baking in an experimental (not always successful) way, and hiking.

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