Alexandria, VA becomes Fifth Dementia Friendly Community in Virginia

Man with dementia buying groceries

Every day, Nico Bins goes to his favorite newsstand to buy a newspaper. The owner greets him with a smile as he scrambles for change to pay. They make conversation about the escalating cost of newspapers, and then Nico goes about his day and the shopkeeper hers.

From a distance, the transaction seems unremarkable. But, what if I told you that the shop is one of more than 90 shops in Bruges, Belgium classified as “dementia-friendly,” and that Nico, the customer, has vascular dementia?

It’s remarkable that this happens in Belgium, but what about here in the U.S.? What are we doing to support those with dementia in our communities? The answer is. . . we are working towards doing the same thing as they are doing in Bruges!

Five Communities in Virginia are Now Committed to Becoming Dementia Friendly!

Recently, Alexandria, Virginia announced that it is becoming the 5th community in Virginia to emulate Bruges, Belgium and become dementia-friendly!
In Belgium, shops similar to the one in our example, display a logo of a knotted red handkerchief. The logo signifies to people with dementia, particularly those in the early stages, that staff can offer compassionate assistance. Communities in the U.S. are working towards doing the same thing through an effort known as Dementia Friendly America. Currently, dementia friendly communities in Virginia include Herndon (the first one in VA), Arlington, Leesburg/Loudoun County, Lexington, and Alexandria. In Maryland, Dementia Friendly communities include Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Frederick County. DC currently does not participate.

Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson issued a powerful challenge this past Tuesday to “make Alexandria a national leader in creating Dementia Friendly communities.” Speaking at a press event at City Hall, he presented a City Proclamation to the Dementia Friendly Alexandria coalition, drawing inspiration from the Americans with Disabilities Act for expanding inclusion. According to Wilson, “(w)ith 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.”

Dementia Initiative in Alexandria will Hopefully Help Prevent Isolation

Jane King, of the Alexandria Commission on Aging, and others recently spoke at an event about the goals of the initiative. “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.”
Here are brief summaries of the other key points that were delivered by community leaders in the area of aging:

Dementia is prevalent: 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.
Helping caregivers: 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.
Staving off isolation: Businesses currently do not understand how to serve persons with dementia, so those individuals and their caregivers stay home and become more isolated at a time when stimulation can help slow the effects of dementia. This will hopefully help to change that!
Emotions last longer than memories for those with dementia: 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. Those emotions will give them more peace and joy. So never think that visiting a person with dementia does not help them – it does.
• Program benefits everybody: This effort will help educate people about dementia, equip business owners and first responders to recognize and assist those with memory loss, and empower people with Alzheimer’s and dementia to engage independently and safely in community life for as long as possible.

Dementia Friendly Communities in the Rest of the U.S.

Dementia Friendly America is comprised of communities (similar to Alexandria), organizations, and individuals working to ensure communities across the country are able to support those with dementia. Currently, communities around the country are taking action, with more than 200 cities in 40 states going through the process of becoming dementia-friendly. The DFA movement began in September 2015, following the White House Conference on Aging, and is based on the state of Minnesota’s statewide initiative, ACT on Alzheimer’s.

How U.S. Communities are Taking Action

Communities, including Alexandria and others in Virginia, Maryland, and the rest of the country, are taking action by leveraging resources in business, community-based services and supports, faith communities, health care communities, legal and financial services, local government and residential settings. According to Dementia Friendly America, the work toward dementia friendliness involves:

• Raising awareness about dementia and transforming attitudes;
• Having supportive options that foster quality of life;
• Supporting caregivers and families touched by the disease;
• Promoting meaningful participation in community life;
• Reaching those who are underserved.

“Becoming dementia friendly must be a priority for all of our hometowns in order to remove stigma, enable people with Alzheimer’s to come out of the shadows and engage in their communities, and help families effectively manage all that comes with the critical task of caregiving,” said George Vradenburg, founder of USAgainstAlzheimer’s, who worked closely with DFA to launch the effort and was a major catalyst behind its inception. “This hometown Dementia Friendly America initiative sends a message to American families experiencing dementia: ‘You are not alone, we are your neighbors, we care about you, and we want to help’.”

Do You Have a Loved One with Dementia? The Time to Plan is Now!

The news about Dementia Friendly communities in our area and across the country is certainly positive for those with the disease, their loved ones, and their caregivers. But what if, despite the increased awareness in the community, you can no longer care for a loved one with dementia in the home, and nursing home care is needed?

When it comes to legal planning for long-term care, generally the earlier someone with dementia plans, the better the result. But it is important to know that it’s never too late to begin the process of Long-term Care Planning, also called Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection Planning.

Medicaid planning can even be started by an adult child acting as agent under a properly-drafted Power of Attorney, and even if your loved one is already in a nursing home or receiving other long-term care services. If you have a loved one who is suffering from any type of dementia, please feel free to call us for an initial consultation:

Medicaid Planning Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Medicaid Planning Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Medicaid Planning Rockville: 301-519-8041
Medicaid Planning DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.