A New Tool For Dementia Caregivers

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Cards Can Make Things Easier In Public Settings

It’s no secret that the number of people who are living with dementia, and the number of unpaid family members who care for them, is increasing and will continue to do so. It’s also no secret that local resources, like respite care, access to specialty medical care, and social and recreational opportunities, are not even close to meeting the demand.

Sometimes though, formal resources are not necessary to make the day a good one for those who are living with dementia. Often all it takes is awareness, changes in attitude, and a willingness to help. Each of us, in many small ways, can make our community dementia friendly.

Understanding the challenges of dementia can make a real difference in how we treat people every day, in our normal activities. We’ve listed the signs and symptoms of dementia. We’ve talked about effective communication to let folks know they are valued and respected. We’ve pointed out how small changes in physical spaces make an environment easier to navigate.

But how can you know that someone has dementia? Most people with early forms of dementia show few if any outward signs of their struggle to process and respond to information. For many, their abilities change from day to day.

If you were aware of their special needs, you could be more helpful – speak more slowly and simply, find a quiet place to talk or share a meal, use open and friendly body language, be more patient. It’s embarrassing for everyone when a caregiver or companion needs to make those needs known in a public situation.

Dementia Friendly Lexington has devised a tool to make it easier for people living with dementia, their caregivers, and their neighbors and organizations that serve them. A business card-sized card has been printed that on one side reads: “The person I am with has dementia. Please be patient.” On the reverse are a few hints, including: “They may: repeat questions; forget what you have told them; take longer to make a decision.”

It is hoped that these cards, when handed to a bank teller, cashier, restaurant employee, hairdresser, or anyone else, will make life just a little easier for everyone. These cards have been made available through the generosity of Kendal at Lexington, and are available at any Rockbridge Regional Library branch and at Maury River Senior Center.

Editor’s note: Jeri Schaff is the director of Valley Program for Aging Services.

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