Imagine a Dementia Friendly Alexandria

By Jackie Barbarito, GHA Assisted Living Administrator

Let’s Make it a Reality!

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson issued a powerful challenge on Tuesday, July 30: Make Alexandria a national leader in creating Dementia Friendly communities. Speaking at a press event at City Hall, where he presented a City Proclamation to the Dementia Friendly Alexandria coalition, Mayor Wilson drew inspiration from the Americans with Disabilities Act for expanding inclusion. 

“With this initiative, Alexandria is leading the way to expand inclusion to our fellow citizens with dementia. The Dementia Friendly Alexandria initiative lays out a plan to include those with dementia in every aspect of community life. We want to make sure we engage persons with dementia in our community activities, restaurants, shopping and everyday life in our neighborhoods.”

 

The Dementia Friendly Alexandria coalition is led by the Alexandria Commission on Aging and Goodwin House Alexandria,

Let’s Prevent Isolation

Dementia Friendly leaders at the City Proclamation event: (L to R) Jane King (Alexandria Commission on Aging), Jackie Barbarito (Goodwin House Alexandria), Mary Lee Anderson (Senior Services of Alexandria), Mayor Justin Wilson (City of Alexandria) and Melissa Andrews (LeadingAge Virginia)

Event moderator Jane King, chair of At Home in Alexandria and member of the Commission on Aging, and Melissa Andrews, president and CEO of LeadingAge Virginia, brought home the painful realities for those with dementia and their caregivers.

“When businesses do not understand how to serve persons with dementia, those individuals and their caregivers stay home and become more isolated at a moment when stimulation can help slow the effects of dementia,” explained Andrews. “In 2017, caregivers provided an average of 22 hours of unpaid care per week for loved ones with dementia – that’s after many have already worked their 40 hours-a-week job and in addition to caring for children, so when our communities become Dementia Friendly we also help caregivers.”

(L to R) Goodwin House Incorporated President and CEO Rob Liebreich with Alexandria Chief of Police Michael Brown and Goodwin House Alexandria Administrator of Operations Dave Baker

Let’s Equip Alexandria

“The goal of Dementia Friendly Alexandria is to equip Alexandria with the resources and tools to support people living with dementia and their caregivers, diminish isolation and allow these individuals to thrive in day-to-day living,” said King. Alexandrians want those living with dementia and their caregivers to feel comfortable wherever they go in our community.”

Nearly 140,000 Virginians currently live with Alzheimer’s, and that number is projected to grow by more than 35 percent over the next six years. Currently, five communities in Virginia have received the official “Dementia Friendly” designation from Dementia Friendly America. That number continues to grow with the support of LeadingAge Virginia. Andrews also shared her own personal journey with her “Pop” and the challenges he faced living with dementia 15 years ago.

“Research is teaching us that persons with dementia have emotions that linger for a long time. This means that even if they quickly forget that you visited them, the emotions they experienced of being loved and important during your visit will last longer,” said Andrews. “Those emotions will give them more peace and joy. So never think that visiting a person with dementia does not help them – it does.”

Additional note from blog author Jackie Barbarito

It has been an honor for me to work with Jane and the other members of our Dementia Friendly initiative team. Our goal for the first year is to focus on providing information sessions to first responders, specifically the police department, and faith communities. I want to give a shout out to our first responders in Alexandria – they attended our launch meeting in February and have been engaged at every step since our initiative launched. I have a whole new level of appreciation for their commitment to serving every citizen of Alexandria with dignity and respect.

Here’s a quick review of our schedule for August:

  • August 13 & 14: The action team will attend “roll call” for the Alexandria Police Department to provide a briefing for the entire department.
  • August 7 & 15: The action team will host information sessions for faith leaders to introduce the initiative. Educational sessions for the broader faith community are expected in Alexandria this fall.

Would you like to get involved? I hope so! And here’s how you can: