As the number of Americans impacted by Alzheimer’s and dementia grows, a movement is spreading to educate people about what it’s like to live with cognitive impairment and how to recognize and respond to those with dementia as we interact with them in our daily lives.
This “Dementia Friends” education campaign complements a broader push to create dementia-friendly communities, where business owners, faith leaders, and government officials take steps to make whole neighborhoods or cities safer and more welcoming for people with dementia.
Speak slowly. This makes it easier for the person to understand.
Listen closely. This will help you recognize what they’re trying to tell you.
One thing at a time. Too much information all at once can be confusing.
Simple words. Common words and phrases are easier to understand.
Eye contact. Looking someone in the eye can make them feel more comfortable and provide clues to what you’re trying to say.
Relax. If you’re relaxed, they’re likely to feel more comfortable and less anxious as well
There are already more than 30,000 trained Dementia Friends throughout the US, according to Meredith Hanley, project director for Dementia Friendly America, a national support network. Worldwide, there are millions.
The program got its start as “Dementia Supporters” in Japan in 2005 and took off globally when the Alzheimer’s Society of the United Kingdom launched Dementia Friends in 2013. More than five years later, the society counts 2.5 million trained “Dementia Friends.”
“Dementia Friends is about giving people an understanding of dementia and the small things they can do that can make a real and meaningful difference,” says actress Carey Mulligan, who serves as the Alzheimer’s Society’s UK Global Friends Ambassador.
Anyone can be a Dementia Friend, according to the advocacy group Dementia Friends USA. If your state has developed a program, you can attend an hour-long in-person training. But if not, anyone can watch a series of videos online created by Dementia Friends USA. The videos include an overview about the growing number of people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia and how to recognize signs of dementia, such as confusion or difficulty finding words or paying a bill.
It also offers tips for interacting with someone who is struggling. For instance, if you notice that someone on your bus seems confused, they may have dementia. You can calmly ask where they are going and help them find their destination. If you’re a server at a restaurant and you notice that a customer is agitated or confused, they may have dementia. You could help by seating them in a quiet location and trying to redirect their agitation by speaking quietly and politely. Offer a few simple meal suggestions to reduce what might seem like an overwhelming number of choices.
Many local agencies that work with seniors also offer resources that can help people interact and communicate more effectively with people with dementia. Here are some tips from the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Dane County, Wisc. The acronym spells SLOWER.
- Speak slowly. This makes it easier for the person to understand.
- Listen closely. This will help you recognize what they’re trying to tell you.
- One thing at a time. Too much information all at once can be confusing.
- Simple words. Common words and phrases are easier to understand.
- Eye contact. Looking someone in the eye can make them feel more comfortable and provide clues to what you’re trying to say.
- Relax. If you’re relaxed, they’re likely to feel more comfortable and less anxious as well.
Sue Sveum is a writer whose experience helping her aging parents led to a specialty in writing for and about seniors and their families. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and their Golden Retriever, Wrigley.