You Can Never Have Too Many (Dementia) Friends

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You Can Never Have Too Many (Dementia) FriendsWhen Dementia Friendly Nevada launched in 2016, each of its Community Action Groups made local dementia awareness a priority. The program of choice? Dementia Friends.

Originally developed in the UK, and licensed by Dementia Friends USA, the Dementia Friends program aims to help community members learn what it’s like to live with dementia and how all community members can play a supportive role. The program has now welcomed 61,000 Dementia Friends across the country.

From 2017-2019, Dementia Friendly Nevada has trained almost 700 new Dementia Friends in the state, including 74 trainers known as Dementia Friends Champions.

The benefits of Dementia Friends information sessions are enormous and spread exponentially. The 60- to 90-minute session helps educate citizens on recognizing dementia in the community, how to talk to people living with dementia, and ways to support them.

“With a little bit of education, people will walk toward people living with dementia instead of walk away,” says Dr. Jennifer Caron, co-facilitator for Dementia Friendly Nevada. Carson is also the state’s official Master Champion for the program and is licensed to train all of its Dementia Friends Champions.

Because Dementia Friends are more aware of dementia in their community, they are also able to educate others and spread the word to overcome rampant misinformation and stigma. Besides being more patient with family, friends and neighbors living with dementia, Dementia Friends are more likely to become involved with dementia-friendly efforts in their communities.

Washoe County currently leads Nevada’s Dementia Friends education efforts. Members of Dementia Friendly Washoe County host information sessions for a wide variety of audiences, including monthly sessions at the Sparks library and Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, as well as sessions for local aging services professionals, students from the University of Nevada, Reno, and participants of the weekly Dementia Friendly Nature Walks who are living with dementia.

“Just because a person has been diagnosed, doesn’t mean they know a lot about dementia. So they’re excited to learn this new information about a condition they’re living with,” says Carson.

In Southern Nevada, Dementia Friendly Pahrump has trained dozens of Dementia Friends, including 23 Search and Rescue volunteers who are often the first contact for people living with dementia who have gotten lost. Others trained include volunteers for the Nevada Rural Counties Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), as well as the co-directors at the local senior center.

“Everyone I have trained has been receptive, interested and surprised at some of the information,” says Jan Lindsay, former co-facilitator of Dementia Friendly Pahrump.

In rural Winnemucca, 150 Dementia Friends have been trained, including care partners, social workers, and school counselors. Training sessions have also been held for law enforcement personnel and other first responders.

In Elko, a Dementia Friends information is offered monthly at the Terrace at Ruby View, a local “Senior and Active Lifestyle Center.” It has also been offered at a local retirement community “so residents can better help their neighbors,” says Carson. ROTC cadets who often provide public service for older adults have also received the training.

Dementia Friends has additionally been provided to members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, which participates in Dementia Friendly Nevada as the Pesa Sooname Advisory Group (“pesa sooname” is a Northern Paiute phrase that translates to “good think”). Dementia Friends USA has worked closely with Dementia Friendly Minnesota to adapt the training for Native groups by using culturally appropriate metaphors.

Of the six community action groups in Dementia Friendly Nevada, only Dementia Friendly Southern Nevada Urban has opted for other community awareness education, constructing a sector-specific program of their own.

Carson says that while the Dementia Friends training lasts only an hour, even the smallest amount of education is immensely helpful.

“There’s a real lack of understanding about dementia, so a one-hour session with empowering content can really make a big difference.” Then she ponders, “Imagine, there are currently 47,000 people living with dementia in Nevada. What if we had an equal number of Dementia Friends? That’s something to work toward.”