Becoming Dementia Friendly

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In the world of museums and cultural spaces, conversations surrounding inclusive design, creative aging, and sensory awareness position us to consider an ever-growing audience segment – those with dementia and their caregivers.

Dementia Friendly is a term used by organizations educating and promoting awareness of people living with dementia. Dementia friendly communities are places “where more people understand dementia, there is less fear and avoidance, and people living with dementia are included and supported to live independently for longer.” As part of their communities, cultural and entertainment venues can actively support this goal. 

At Thinkwell Group, we recognize that thoughtful experience design can significantly impact health and well-being for a population segment that is frequently underserved, misunderstood, marginalized, and ever-growing. By ensuring that our Thinkwell community is Dementia Friendly by providing free training for all staff, we empower them to carry the work forward into their jobs, communities, and personal lives. 

“Dementia” is not a disease. It is a set of symptoms. The root cause may be a disease, including Lewy Body and Alzheimer’s, as well as temporary conditions such as medication imbalance, vascular issues, and even stress.

Dementia impacts one in nine (11%) people over the age of 65; and one-third (33%) of those over 85. 5.8 million people in the US currently live with some form of dementia.

This number is projected to double by 2045. It is estimated that 80% of those with dementia live in the community, as opposed to an assisted living facility. Up to 40% of those in the community live alone. Alzheimer’s Disease is the leading cause of dementia and is currently the 6th leading cause of death in the US.

With this growing need, the work to make a community dementia friendly is needed and achievable. Local and regional Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) may provide training through partners such as Dementia Friends or Purple Angel. These classes support those in the community who encounter dementia patients daily, such as bank tellers, retail clerks, health care workers, and library and museum staff. The goal is to empower people across all facets of a community to support daily life for those with dementia in a safe and kind way.  

The training defines dementia and explores how it can present. There is a focus on empathic practice for individuals with dementia and caregivers, not diagnosis. Content also covers interactions, language use, and communication styles. A frequent expression of dementia is the loss or delay of language, in the same way that a person on the Autism spectrum might experience “losing their words.”

One aspect of the training that often surprises participants is the impact dementia can have on the senses. A loss of peripheral vision, depth perception, and ability to discern color contrast can all be part of dementia. Understanding the holistic experience of dementia enhances empathy and provides opportunities to design safer, kinder, and more meaningful experiences for all audiences. 

As we move forward with this Dementia Friendly Initiative, we strengthen our commitment to live our values of intentionality, respect, and learning. This work allows us to bring Dementia Friendly perspectives to clients and partners, ensuring our audiences and their experiences are central to everything we do.