With more than 50 million sufferers worldwide, a number that is expected to double in the next twenty years, dementia has already become a major health problem and is expected to grow far worse in time. While Alzheimer's Disease remains the most well known of these neurological conditions, there are numerous other dementias and the risk rises significantly with age. As baby boomers grow older, new dementia cases will likely strain health care systems to the breaking point by 2050.
As part of an innovative new strategy for helping people with dementia, "dementia villages" have been established in the Netherlands. Designed as functioning communities where patients with severe dementia can live full-time, patients can interact with "villagers" (who are actually trained geriatric care staff) and allows them to function as close to their normal life as possible. Inspired by the success of the Hogewey community in the Netherlands, similar villages have been established in the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia.
Here in Canada, two new pilot projects are now underway in the province of Alberta, one in the Calgary foothills and the other in the town of Okotoks. Funded by the Alberta government, both projects involve training staff at recreation centres, grocery stores, and other businesses how to deal with people with dementia. "Dementia is everybody's business," said program coordinator Emma Richardson in an interview with CBC News. "Everybody will know somebody that has dementia, even in the wider community. So it's making sure that there's inclusion for everybody."
With more than 40,000 Albertans who have been diagnosed with dementia, many businesses have volunteered to participate in the project to provide better service for customers in need. As part of the training they receive, staff members are taught to recognize people with dementia and to use the following steps to put them at ease:
- Make eye contact, smile warmly.
- Use a gentle touch to get attention.
- Keep information short and to the point.
- Use gestures or pictures, if helpful.
- Say important things twice to help the person stay focused.
- Be patient, give the person extra time to answer.
- Give the person choices, like "Do you want a sandwich or soup," instead of asking open-ended questions like "What do you want for lunch?"
By providing clear guidance to customers who are confused due to dementia, Emma Richardson hopes that problems with miscommunication can be avoided. "If they go to the bank, or if they go to the dentist, they go to any of these services, if the person that's helping them doesn't understand why they're behaving in a certain way, they can treat them with not so much respect and not give them the time that is needed. So having an education really creates that awareness."
Though the dementia villages projects have only just started, early signs suggest that people dealing with dementia, along with their families, are already experiencing the benefits. As the number of new cases continues to increase, they will need all the help they can get.