In Deerfield, West Deerfield Township officials are working together with other area agencies to make sure the community is able to assist those with all forms of dementia.
Those efforts were recently recognized when Deerfield was designated a Dementia Friendly Community by Dementia Friendly America.
Alyson Feiger, West Deerfield Township supervisor, said helping someone could be as simple as a server in a restaurant knowing how to ask the right question when a diner appears to have trouble reading the menu. A bill of fare with large print can be a big help.
“Try to suggest things on the menu and be patient,” Feiger said. “Try to greet people warmly. Try to slow the conversation and allow them time to process and understand.”
Should an answer to one of the questions at the restaurant seem unusual, Julia Cochran, the township’s program coordinator, said asking a related question will eventually lead to assistance with a minimal amount of confusion.
“It’s very important not to correct the individual,” Cochran said. “Rather than correct them say ‘oh, really.’ You really do need to be patient.”
“You can ask if they want to have a cold sandwich or a salad,” added Robbie Boudreau, executive director of Southeast Lake County Faith in Action Volunteers, which is one of the stakeholders in the community wide effort. “A restaurant menu can be very complicated.”
Feiger said a key to making Deerfield and other communities in the township dementia friendly is getting a diverse group of stakeholders together. Along with Faith in Action, some of the partners include the Council of Jewish Elderly, the Patty Turner Center and the Deerfield Bannockburn Riverwoods Chamber of Commerce, among others.
“This cross section has really helped advance the quality of what we’re able to do,” Feiger said. “There is so much to learn. Unless you’re personally affected by someone close to you, you really don’t know.”
Involvement from the business community is also important. Cochran said people with financial skills and knowledge can help individuals with dementia avert potential scams.
Changing perceptions and mindsets is also part of the effort. Feiger said when a family member is acting as the care giver for a person with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, they are considered care partners, not care givers.
Boudreau said she runs a support group at the Patty Turner Center for care partners. As an organization devoted to helping older adults maintain their independence with high quality, she said the volunteers from Faith in Action can play a key role.
“They give respite to the family care partners,” Boudreau said, explaining how the volunteers spend time with a person with varying forms of dementia while the care partner tends to other activities.
Boudreau also runs a support group for care partners at the Patty Turner Center. She said she helps the members know they are not alone. They get the opportunity to share their experiences and assist one another.
Feiger said educating people in the community is another element of making the township friendlier to people with memory issues. A person could be in the very early stages and not advanced in age. While many people with dementia have Alzheimer’s, there are other forms.
“We want to teach people the very basic ways to identify (dementia) and the options out there,” she said. “It could happen to someone in their 70s who does not feel old. Eventually it can interfere with daily functions”
A local therapeutic option is a memory cafe at the Deerfield Public Library. Feiger said music is played because it is relaxing and enjoyable.
Residents should know if they have a neighbor who has a form of dementia. Boudreau said everyone should watch out for each other’s safety. It is crucial with a person who has memory issues.
“If you see a senior who appears unaware, ask them a question,” Boudreau said. “This gives them a chance in a good way to respond. Giving people choices is good.”
Steve Sadin is a freelance reporter.