Local initiative seeks to help create ‘dementia friendly’ communities

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By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor

Region – The thought of having a loved one diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease strikes fear in the heart of many, rightfully so. The disease, for which there is currently no cure, is a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior.

It is a disease that is not a normal part of aging but does occur in older individuals more frequently. Alzheimer’s robs individuals of their memories and their productive lives but also puts a heavy burden on family members and caregivers. Both individual and caretaker are often left feeling lonely, scared and confused.

In the United States, 10,000 people turn 65 every day. One in nine over the age of 65 develops Alzheimer’s; one in three over 85 has the disease.

Now, thanks to a grant from Baystate Elder Services, Inc., three local communities, Hudson, Marlborough and Northborough, will be piloting a program designed to help communities become more dementia-friendly, offering vital support and services to those who often feel there is none.

Recently, the directors of senior centers for the three communities – Janice Long from Hudson, Trish Pope from Marlborough, and Kelly Burke from Northborough – met to discuss the mission and strategies they hope to accomplish in the next year.

Based on 2010 census data, there are 19,063 people in Hudson, 2,731 over the age of 65 and 278 over the age of 85. In Marlborough there are 38,499 residents, 4,837 over age 65 and 835 over age 85. In Northborough there are 14,155 residents, 1,829 over 65 and 262 over age 85.

The three towns were chosen by Christine Alessandro to receive the grant from Bay State Elder Services, Burke said, because of not only their close proximity to each other but also their diverseness.

The program, Burke noted, is based on one currently being used in Minnesota. Recently the three women went there to receive training.

“Alzheimer’s is such an isolating disease,” Pope said. “When people see someone [with Alzheimer’s or dementia] they often look the other way or the person gets talked over. It can be embarrassing for both the person and the caregiver.”

“People want to be valued,” Long said. “Our goal is to have communities embrace this program to help those affected and take away the stigma.”

By educating first responders, faith communities, businesses and other entities, as well as offering caregivers support, resources and information, the hope is that the communities will be more dementia-friendly, the directors said.

A so-called Super Group has been formed to work on this initiative. Members include Alessandro, Steve Corso, Arthur Bergeron, Esq., Tammy Pozerycki, Dr. Michelle Ricard, and Brenda Costa, along with the three directors.

The group is also seeking others from the private and public sectors to join them.

“We hope to get a great representation of interested parties including family members who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s or even someone who is affected themselves,” Burke said.

The first steps will be to survey the communities to assess strengths and gaps and then analyze community needs and develop an action plan. The goals will then be to identify and invest in promising approaches that reduce costs and improve care; increase detection of Alzheimer’s disease and improve ongoing care and support; sustain caregivers by offering them information, resources and in-person support; equip communities to be “dementia capable” to support residents who are touched by Alzheimer’s disease; and raise awareness and reduce stigma by engaging communities.

For more information contact Burke at 508-393-5035 or coa@town.northborough.ma.us; Long at 978-568-9638 or jlong@townofhudson.org or Pope at 508-485-6492; or ppope@marlborough-ma.gov.