Community Stories

Building a Dementia-Friendly Community

Dementia is a complex condition that can often be overlooked or misunderstood. For several years, Living Healthy Washington County (LHWC) has worked to educate, raise awareness, and support residents living with dementia and their caregivers, with support from the Minnesota Department of Health’s Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP).

In 2020, LHWC aligned its work with the Healthy Brain Initiative, focusing specifically on efforts to educate and train professionals. In collaboration with Dementia Partners Woodbury and FamilyMeans, LHWC embarked on training businesses serving older adults to be dementia friendly.

This project took shape through conversations with Dementia Partners Woodbury, a newly formed collaboration between local public health, local businesses, nonprofit organizations, and caregivers. The community group selected industries that older adults frequent most, such as banks, grocery stores, restaurants, and affordable housing providers. Dementia Partners Woodbury shared an interest survey with the Woodbury Chamber of Commerce to help identify interested businesses. This group also created a list of businesses to contact.

LHWC contracted with FamilyMeans to offer the Dementia Friendly @ Work curriculum to interested businesses on strategies for making businesses safe, respectful, and welcoming for people living with dementia. FamilyMeans, a Stillwater-based social services organization that provides comprehensive dementia education and caregiver support to Washington County residents and beyond, has educated 551 staff members at 42 businesses using Dementia Friendly @ Work since 2016. FamilyMeans was also selected to lead recruitment efforts to train businesses, offer sustainable tools, and an environmental assessment to be more dementia friendly.

After several months of outreach and numerous phone calls, employees from six local businesses were trained in the Dementia Friendly @ Work curriculum in 2021. The businesses include a bank, a law firm, a music school, a nonprofit organization, and a senior housing provider. Each training focuses on strategies for employees to improve communication and offers small modifications to be more dementia friendly, such as offering your name to the person and slowing down while speaking. The trainings were also customized for each business based on how they interact with individuals. For example, a training at a bank would include areas of financial fraud prevention, while a training at a law firm would focus more on estate planning and family dynamics.

“The inventory [FamilyMeans] did of our office was particularly helpful and highlighted some things I had never thought of before,” said an employee at K&S Music in Woodbury. “I would highly recommend your training to every workplace. Every. Workplace.”

Businesses find that making a business “dementia friendly” also makes it friendlier and more inclusive, including for people living with autism or sensory processing disorders, hearing loss, and mobility issues. Washington County is continuing to work with FamilyMeans to offer trainings and expand recruitment efforts countywide into 2022, and is also beginning work on another priority issue of the Healthy Brain Initiative to focus on early detection of dementia, especially for underrepresented older adults.