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Creating Dementia-friendly communities in metrowest

The American flag flies in downtown Marlborough/Photo by Douglas Flynn

Do you have a loved one with Alzheimer's or another dementia? Have you and your loved one found it difficult engaging with the community? Do you want your community to be more welcoming to people with dementia and their caregivers but are unsure how you can help make that happen?

It doesn't have to be that way. Dementia-friendly communities are coming to MetroWest.

BayPath Elder Services, Inc., with funding in part from the MetroWest Health Foundation and working in conjunction with stakeholders from all sectors of the community, helped begin the process of creating dementia-friendly communities in MetroWest.

The initial stage began replicating the Act on Alzheimer's initiative in Minnesota in Northborough, Marlborough and Hudson, assisting these three communities in becoming dementia friendly in 2016, with Westborough joining the program the following year.

What is a dementia-friendly community?

A dementia-friendly community is informed, safe, and respectful of individuals with dementia and their families and caregivers, and provides supportive options that foster quality of life.

There were already pockets of community-based services and programs for individuals with Alzheimer's disease in Marlborough, Hudson and Northborough. What was lacking is an overarching community-wide approach to supporting individuals with dementia so they can remain part of the fabric of the community itself.

Beauticians and waiters are not trained on dementia behaviors so it is difficult for an individual with Alzheimer's to have successful social interactions with them. Emergency preparedness and response personnel are not trained on how to appropriately approach an angry, agitated or confused individual with dementia.

Alzheimer's can be a socially isolating disease for the individual. Those with Alzheimer's may isolate themselves in their homes so as to not feel or look foolish in front of the community. Isolation also occurs when individuals begin to find it difficult navigating the external environment.   

Additionally, the incidence of depression in people with dementia is higher due to social isolation. For caregivers, it may be easier to just stay home than try and explain behaviors to those who do not know or understand. This program engages communities in creating the change necessary to be dementia friendly. 

The Minnesota model

The path to creating dementia-friendly communities in Massachusetts actually winds through Minnesota.

The effort to create dementia-friendly communities in Marlborough, Hudson and Northborough led BayPath Executive Director Christine Alessandro and a small contingent of key players in the project to fly to Minneapolis.

Alessandro, Marlborough Council on Aging Director Trish Pope, Hudson COA Director Janice Long, Northborough COA Director Kelly Burke and elder law attorney Arthur Bergeron went to Minnesota on Sept. 9-11, 2015, learning first-hand from key people who helped successfully establish a number of dementia-friendly communities in that state.

Over the course of parts of three days, the BayPath contingent learned all about the challenges ahead, and gained a knowledge of the process and the confidence to implement it here at home.

"It was priceless," Alessandro said of the trip. "It was not only impactful, it was so well-thought out, so engaging, so thorough. I walked away saying, 'I am prepared to do this.' It was very intense."

For more on the dementia-friendly community project and the trip to Minnesota, check out the our Q&As with Alessandro and Long on the Caregiving Chronicles blog.

You can also read Bergeron's guest column [pdf] for the MetroWest Daily News in which he why he is so committed to this project and the vision he has for a dementia-friendly MetroWest.

The COME 2 B Dementia Friendly Program

COME 2 B Dementia Friendly is a community-based initiative consisting of agencies, businesses and committed individuals working together to create dementia-friendly communities throughout MetroWest Boston. This initiative was funded in part by a grant from the MetroWest Health Foundation.

BayPath Elder Services later received funding from the MetroWest Health Foundation to expand its Come2B Dementia Friendly program to another community, with Westborough joining the fold after the initial efforts were begun in Marlborough, Hudson and Northborough.

The task of creating dementia-friendly communities across the state has since been taken over by the Massachusetts Councils on Aging, which continues to bring the concept to more towns and cities throughout the Commonwealth.

For more information about the progress of these efforts and to learn what you can do to help make your community more dementia friendly, visit Dementia Friendly America Massachusetts.

Related information and additional web resources

To read more about the Act on Alzheimer's initiative in Minnesota, check out its website, where they also provide a toolkit for creating dementia-friendly communities.

There is also a guidebook, "Building Dementia-Friendly Communities: A Priority for Everyone," available online from the Alzheimer's Society as part of its effort to create dementia-friendly communities in the United Kingdom.

In the United States, Dementia Friendly America has begun the process of developing dementia-friendly communities in various parts of the country, including Boston. Dementia Friendly America has a toolkit of its own adapted from the Act on Alzheimer's program.

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BayPath Elder Services, Inc

Caregiving MetroWest is a no-cost program of BayPath Elder Services, Inc. and was made possible in part by grants from the MetroWest Health Foundation.

Avidia Bank

BayPath Elder Services, Inc.'s Family Caregiver Support Program and Caregiving MetroWest are grateful for the generous support of our community partner, Avidia Bank, which helps us continue to give area family caregivers the information, resources and support they need.