From the sunroom of the Knox County Public Library, Brenda Hancock asks an assembled group what comes to mind when they hear the word dementia — men and women offer replies that range from words like confusion and forgetfulness, to isolation and fear.
“Often, the words we associate with dementia are negative,” she said, adding that, while it certainly causes disruptions to daily life, dementia is not the singular defining aspect of a person.
Hancock, the community resource coordinator at Generations Agency on Aging and Disability, on Wednesday presented the county’s first ever Dementia Friends Indiana informational session.
She told the assembled group of 15 community participants that the goal of the one hour session was to increase understanding and reduce the stigma surrounding dementia.
More than six million American men and women are living with dementia, and as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, that number is expected to increase drastically over the next decade.
Already, 1 in 6 members of the millennial generation are caregivers for family members with dementia, Hancock said.
Despite the fact that so many people are living with Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias, there is still a stigma and a host of misunderstandings surrounding the diseases that attack and impair the mind.
“There’s more to a person than dementia.
“A good way to think about it is that we don’t stigmatize people who are diabetic in this sort of way, thinking of them only as a person with diabetes. They are a person first; they just happen to have a disease,” she said to the group.
Alleviating the shame and stigma many people living with dementia face is one of the goals of the Dementia Friends Indiana Initiative.
Though a statewide initiative, Dementia Friends is a global movement that was first developed in the United Kingdom with the aim of providing better understanding of how dementia affects people and sharing ways each member of a community can make a difference in their lives.
“We want to help implement practical changes that help both the community and the individual living with dementia,” Hancock said.
Thanks to a partnership with the Knox County Public Library, Hancock is sharing her knowledge with members of the public, encouraging others to be friends and advocates of those living with dementia.
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She, too, hopes it will lead to more informational sessions throughout the community.
“We can do the informational sessions wherever,” Hancock said. “We can do them for work groups, churches, whatever is needed, we’re more than happy to do that.”
During the training session, attendees can expect to learn some of the differences between typical age-related memory loss and signs of Alzheimer’s or related dementias, as well as tips for better communication with individuals who have dementia.
For instance, Hancock told the group, “it can take up to 20 seconds for a person with dementia to process information and formulate a reply to a question.”
That can even apply, she said, to simple questions such as what an individual might want for lunch.
“You can imagine how easy it could be for someone to become frustrated, so they repeat the question or say something like ‘are you gonna answer me?’ ” Hancock said. “But in reality, they’re still trying to process your first question.”
Teaching better communication strategies for caregivers and community members is a primary goal of Dementia Friends because, as Hancock explained, “the ability to express ourselves, our feelings, and our wishes is a basic human need — we all need to be able to do that.”
Offering more patience, more understanding, and good listening skills can make a world of difference to someone living with dementia.
KCPL’s adult programming coordinator, Janet Kitchin, helped organize the sessions and said, while she personally hasn’t experienced caregiving for someone with dementia, she recognizes how important it is to offer Dementia Friends training to caregivers and members of the community in general.
“My daughter went to a similar session in Indianapolis and encouraged me to do something here,” Kitchin said. “She was right; this was really eye-opening for me, and I would encourage other community members to attend as well.”
Those interested in learning more about living with dementia and simple things one can do to support individuals struggling with its effects, are invited to attend the second informational session offered at the Knox County Public Library, 502 N. Seventh St.
The session will be from 6-7 p.m. on Nov. 30. Registration is recommended but not required.
For more information, or to register, call 812-886-4380.