Dementia Friends Movement Launches In Indiana

Oct 1, 2018

The World Health Organization identified dementia as a public health priority.  In Indiana, the number of cases is expected to rise 18 percent by 2025.  A new movement is underway to make Indiana more dementia friendly through better awareness and understanding of the disease.

At Conner Prairie, a living history museum in Fishers, a small group of seniors inspect a series of different objects. Interpretation Manager Kelsey Van Hoorst guides them through the exercise.

"I’ve already heard some wonderful stories about ‘I used this artifact’ or ‘I remember my grandmother had one of these,’" Hoorst says.

This is the museum’s first in a series of memory cafes. As participants explore and discuss items in the collection, the process can strengthen remote memory. And this is part of a larger push to make spaces and people more dementia aware.

Norman Burns is the museum’s president.

"It’s really just getting back to putting human in humankind and I think museums can play a special role in the way we reach out to our audiences," says Burns. 

Museums aren’t the only organizations in Indiana onboard with this dementia friendly movement.  

Dustin Ziegler with CICOA Aging and In-Home Solutions says it is long overdue.

"People from all over have been coming out of the woodwork. It’s interesting, what does a fire department have in common with a church or a museum?" Ziegler says. 

People.  People who come into contact with people with dementia. CICOA led the recent statewide launch of Dementia Friends Indiana, a global initiative developed by the Alzheimer’s Society in the United Kingdom. The focus is to change the way we think, act and talk about dementia. Ziegler says that could mean a lot to many.

"Whether that’s someone that has the disease or a caregiver, they’re going to feel comfortable going out to a restaurant, or the grocery, because they know no one cares that my husband repeats himself," Ziegler says.

Organizations and individuals can sign up and take the online training that presents scenarios and offer changes you can make in your everyday life. Ziegler hopes it could have a clinical impact too. 

"People who have the disease, not wanting to talk about it or they feel embarrassed or denial, not wanting to get a diagnosis, even providers themselves not making a diagnosis," says Ziegler 

Hooverwood is a nursing facility in Indianapolis. Pat Healy is a a geriatrician there, he also works with the St. Vincent Center for Healthy Aging. He says people need to accept dementia as a disability.

"If you’ve ever seen someone in a wheelchair go through a crowd and the crowd parts. Everyone understands a physical disability unfortunately I think there is a stigma associated, one with mental health and under that, dementia," he says.

Healy says it’s the most common disease he deals with.

"As common as congestive heart disease but it’s often not seen as such, and someone doesn’t obviously look sick but they may be confused or agitated," says Healy. 

He says dementia impacts the whole family unit, and caregivers will benefit from training as well.

"What I often tell families.  Sometimes they’ll have a little card that says, 'Sorry, dad has dementia' and when you see that, the individual that gets the card just melts," says Healy. 

Indiana is the 10th state to adopt the Dementia Friends Initiative.