The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, among other international laws, has provided people living with disabilities access to commercial and public spaces.
But when it comes to dementia, patients and their caretakers have remained isolated, with few facilities modified to accommodate them.
That’s changing in the United States and abroad, as municipal and state governments begin to make public and private spaces accessible to people with dementia.
Consider the following destinations, which demonstrate that it takes a village to embrace its most vulnerable citizens.
Bruges: The world’s most dementia-friendly city?
The quaint, medieval town of in Belgium is known for its canal-flanked cobblestone streets, excellent chocolate and the dark comedy film In Bruges. The city also stakes a claim as the most dementia-friendly city in the world.
How did the charming tourist destination earn such a title? By partnering with Foton, a charity that provides specialized dementia care for shops and volunteers.
You’ll recognize Foton’s red handkerchief logo on over 100 Bruges stores, indicating that the shopkeepers and staff are able to provide specialized assistance to people with dementia. The city’s police officers are also Foton-trained to spot wandering or confused patients and lead them home safely.
“The idea is to treat dementia patients like any other residents of the city … so they can stay independent longer, slowing down the progress of the disease,” Bart Deltour, a Foton employee, told NBC’s Lex18.
Foton’s efforts in Bruges have meant that many people with dementia can live alone, with the assistance of the community’s volunteers.
Middleton, Wisconsin: A U.S. pioneer
Across the Atlantic, a growing number of communities are making themselves accessible to residents with dementia.
In 2014, Middleton, Wisconsin, passed a resolution to become dementia-friendly. Working with the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, the city trained its employees to ensure that at least half the staffers in every municipal department were able to work with residents with dementia.
“We started by training all of the city departments in Middleton,” Jim Ramsey, who helped start Middleton’s initiative, told Considerable. “The Middleton Public Library was the first city agency to achieve dementia friendly, and we worked on training as many businesses as possible and worked on making sure we check in with them to make sure they’re sustaining it, training new employees. The library is where we held a lot of the early meetings.”
More than 50 local businesses joined the initial effort. In August 2015, Middleton held a ceremony to hail its first dementia friendly-businesses, including Walgreens, State Bank of Cross Plains, Ace Hardware of Middleton Springs, Fitzgerald’s Restaurant and Willy Street Co-op West.
Each of the businesses had trained 50% of its employees on dementia-friendly practices and made changes to their shops to aid customers with dementia or other memory challenges. Adaptations ranged from making signage easier to understand to recognizing signs of dementia and offering help navigating the stores.
These trained staffers have tended to stick around. “It’s all volunteers — there’s a core of devoted people,” Ramsey said.
Since then, Middleton and Stoughton, where Ramsey now lives, began integrating Music and Memory — creating curated playlists of personally meaningful playlists for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
More communities get dementia-savvy
Middleton isn’t alone. In 2015 at the White House Conference on Aging, six pilot programs were announced in six cities and communities, modeled after one such successful program in Minnesota.
Advocacy groups like the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin and Act on Alzheimer’s in Minnesota have helped provide communities across the United States with informational tools about how to make themselves more dementia-friendly.
As our aging population includes more Americans with dementia, communities are rising to the challenges of providing better access to all members.