3 Ways to Make Your Town Dementia-Friendly

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I always knew I lived in a cool, progressive place, but Brookline, Mass, the closest town to Boston, just went up another notch for me.

It not only attracts an international community (world-class hospitals and brainy universities everywhere), but now has the distinction of being the first dementia-friendly community in the country.

The initiative “It Takes A Village” finds ways for those with dementia and their caregivers to enjoy cultural offerings around town, include other residents who want to attend, change people’s attitudes toward Alzheimer’s, and trigger memories of long ago.

The concept is spearheaded by the non-profit ARTZ (Artists for Alzheimer’s) and bankrolled with a grant from the local Brookline Community Foundation. It has brought together public and cultural institutions, civic and business leaders, and citizens.

Between March and this August, there will be 16 events, every other week for 60-90 minutes. These include:

  • An interactive story telling program at an independent bookstore
  • An art program at the Brookline Art Center
  • A music performance with musicians and those with dementia at the Brookline Music School
  • An outdoor concert on the grounds of the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. Olmsted was a world-famous landscape architect and park-maker
  • A discussion on politics at the home where John F. Kennedy was born
  • A film program at the 1920′s, Art Deco Coolidge Theatre (profiled in AARP)
  • Yoga in a studio
  • A talk about antique cars at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum

A recent program at the car museum, entitled “On the Road,” steered the conversation from what they were seeing to their own memories-their first car, going to drive-ins in their parents’ cars, and their own travels.

Since this is Boston, college students volunteer and also participate. “The idea is to destigmatize dementia in the community so that it just becomes something people have, like cancer or HIV, that they live with, but it doesn’t define them,” says ARTZ Creative Director Sean Caulfield. “What we don’t want to do is warehouse people and keep them isolated, but rather, inside the community circle.”

Caregivers get to meet one another and find educational opportunities for family members. The adult child I know of two parents with dementia moved them to Brookline so they could participate in these events.

Want to make your town dementia-friendly?

  1. Figure out what is available in your community. A culinary institute? A college? A community center? A public library? A movie theatre?
  2. Start a coalition of people caring for those with dementia
  3. Talk to local, civic and business leaders, non-profit foundations, community activists, and cultural institutions.

Follow Sally Abrahms at www.sallyabrahms.com or on Twitter