Franklin to Become a Dementia Friendly Community

J.D. O’Gara
Issue Date: 
September, 2018
Article Body: 

In late June, the Franklin Senior Center received an $11,712 grant award from the MetroWest Health Foundation to create a Dementia Friendly Community.
“There’s a statewide push for dementia-friendly programs,” says Karen Alves, Franklin Senior Center Director. Northboro and Westboro have become dementia-friendly, and the state of Minnesota has served as a role model as one of the early adopters of the program.
Several components make up a Dementia-Friendly community, says Alves.
“The goals of the program are to reduce social isolation for those living with dementia and their caregivers,” says Alves. Research, she says, shows that dementia impairs physical and mental health. “Folks who have some dementia don’t feel comfortable going out. They become lonely and depressed.”
Lessening the stigma of dementia is also part of a dementia-friendly community.
“We’re looking at it with a different lens,” says Alves, who adds that rather than refer to those who have dementia as suffering from dementia, the focus might change to “living with dementia.”
“We’re trying to change the mindset,” she says. “That will eventually decrease the stigma associated with it, so people feel more comfortable being in the community.”
That community, she says, is a large, piece of the puzzle. Increasing awareness and understanding of dementia within the community is key to a dementia-friendly community.
Franklin will create a steering committee of community organizers, local government and municipal representatives, first responders, and at least one member and caregiver living with dementia.
The steering committee’ goals would be to train and educate the community, says Alves. Training could include interactive situations where someone would be able to experience aspects of what it’s like to live with dementia and how it affects such senses as perception and balance. “We would go about it pretty methodically. We’d work with the Alzheimer’s Association to train first responders, businesses and merchants, and when businesses go through that training, they’ll get a decal. We’ll work with schools and do training probably with the school committee.”
Students, she says, may have parents or grandparents living with dementia.
“I think it’s important, because so many people are affected,” says Alves. “I don’t think if you had a random sample of people that you would find someone who doesn’t know someone who lives with dementia. Baby boomers are getting older, and numbers of elderly people are significant. It’s just becoming that much of an issue that it affects everyone.”
As part of the program, in July, the Franklin Senior Center launched its first Memory Café.
“This is a regularly scheduled event where folks living with dementia and their care partners can come and enjoy social engagement and talk to each other about shared circumstance,” says Alves. The monthly social event is geared to making people feel safe and engaged, with an activity and refreshment.
“It’s a place you can go with the person you love living with dementia,” says the senior center director. The trend, she says, began in Europe and came to the United States just five or six years ago.
If you would like to sign up for the Memory Café, call (508) 520-4945.