Over 110,000 people live with dementia in Washington State, and the numbers continue to grow. For many people with dementia and caregivers, social isolation can be an all-too-common experience—an experience now compounded by the COVID-19 outbreak. While there’s no cure for the medical conditions that cause dementia, the burden of social isolation can be effectively addressed. Here in King County and across the state, we’re seeing increasing efforts to foster dementia-friendly communities—neighborhoods, cities, and counties that respect and include people with dementia and their families in a way that supports ongoing participation and engagement.
One notable example is Memory Sunday, an initiative that has taken off in our region through the leadership of Aging and Disability Services planner Karen Winston. Each June, this annual event mobilizes African American churches to provide education and resources related to Alzheimer’s prevention, treatment, research, and caregiving. Participating congregations more than doubled this year, even in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, with a dozen churches committing to offer a special blessing for dementia caregivers.
“Creating dementia-friendly communities is important,” Winston notes, “because it reinforces the fact that we all belong and deserve to engage in a variety of activities, and we are supported in those activities, whether related to business, faith, or social events.”
Another local success is the Momentia movement, an approach that emerged in King County and has grown to receive national attention. A collaborative effort involving many organizations and community members, Momentia empowers people with memory loss and their families to stay active and connected in the community by offering dementia-friendly programs, from neighborhood walking groups, to Alzheimer’s Café meet-ups in coffee shops, and tailored art museum gallery discussions. During COVID-19, many of these offerings have transitioned to a virtual platform, such as Taproot Theatre’s innovative “Z-Improv” (Zoom-based improv) program and the video-based Garden Discovery Walks program with Seattle Parks and Recreation and UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center.
In addition, the Dementia Friends public awareness program has effectively built understanding and challenged stigma both locally and around the state. Dementia Friends relies upon a network of trained volunteers who deliver 60-minute dementia information sessions throughout their community. Sessions cover basic content about dementia and how to be supportive to a person with dementia. After a successful pilot in King, Jefferson and Yakima counties in 2019 through the state’s Dementia Action Collaborative, the program is now expanding to Pierce and Spokane counties.
These innovative approaches, and more, will be featured in an upcoming statewide conference, “Collaborating for a Dementia-Friendly Washington: Inspiring Change.” This two-day virtual event (Zoom) will take place from 9 a.m.–12 p.m. on Tuesday, September 30, and Wednesday, September 30. Organized by the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center on behalf of the Washington State Dementia Action Collaborative, primary funding for this event was provided by the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration. A planning committee comprises advisors from across the state.
The conference is for anyone who wants to take action to make their community more dementia-friendly, including people with dementia, caregivers, and people who work or volunteer in a variety of public settings: aging and senior services, arts and culture, chambers of commerce, city government, community centers, cultural associations, faith communities, libraries, neighborhood groups, parks and recreation, service clubs, social or health care services.
“This is a tremendous opportunity to bring together the passion and dedication of so many people and organizations who are doing vital kind of work,” states Lynne Korte, part of the event planning team and lead staff for the Washington State Dementia Action Collaborative.
The dynamic program kicks off with a keynote by Meredith Hanley, MSW, Project Director for Dementia Friendly America in Washington, DC. Other presentations cover how to launch innovative programs and initiatives that raise awareness, challenge stigma, and help people with memory loss and their families stay active and engaged in the community – from activities included in the Momentia movement, to Memory Sunday and Dementia Friends, to new virtual programs for social connection.
States Korte, “Just looking at the list of sessions is a wonderful reminder that there are so many ways to be part of creating a more dementia-friendly Washington.”
For more information about “Collaborating for a Dementia-Friendly Washington: Inspiring Change” or to register online, click here.
Contributor Marigrace Becker, MSW, manages Community Education and Impact with the UW Memory and Brain Wellness Center and coordinates this conference.