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Program Started in Lafayette Seeks to Expand Safe Zones for Dementia Patients Across Boulder County

February 24, 2019
Owner and Stylist Mary Eberl styles Juanita Marino's hair at Scizzors Limited hair salon in Lafayette on Friday. Longtime customer Marino does not have dementia, but Scizzors is among the businesses participating in Dementia Friendly Boulder County.

Approximately 28,000 people were experiencing some form of dementia in Boulder County as of 2015, according to local health officials. That number is expected to triple by 2050 as more baby boomers reach their golden years.

To begin addressing this growing issue, volunteers from the Boulder County Area Agency on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association last year in Lafayette launched a pilot program known as Dementia Friendly Boulder County.

“You can’t just warehouse everybody or put people who have still have the ability to function in an institution, it’s just not humane,” said Niki Hayden, chair of Dementia Friendly Boulder County. “So we started talking about what a community would look like where people could have mild dementia and still live a good life by studying similar dementia-friendly programs all around the world.”

To reach this lofty goal, they decided to use a platform created by Dementia Friendly America in which the local offshoot in Boulder County offers free training courses on how businesses and government departments can properly recognize and deal with individuals suffering from dementia.

Though Juli MacKenzie, the Lafayette Senior Center supervisor, said less than 10 businesses requested training in the first year of the pilot program, those that did were receptive and helped Dementia Friendly Boulder County refine its training methods and materials.

“It’s something our drivers deal with a lot,” said Lyndsy Morse, Via Mobility’s communications manager. “A lot of it focused on strategies that they were already using. But they had a lot of great conversation during the session on how they could improve.”

Mary Eberl, the owner of Scizzors Limited in Lafayette, said she has had several clients affected by dementia and she already knew a lot of the strategies set forth in the training, but it “reinforced the idea that these people need a place to go where they know that people are listening to them and that they will feel comfortable in any business, because the biggest emotion they have is shame.”

The Lafayette Police Department thought the training was so informative it invited Dementia Friendly Boulder County to do the training each year so new recruits are up to speed on the best practices.

Now in its second year, Dementia Friendly Boulder County is looking to expand its programs throughout the rest of the county.

“Last year we started figuring out what we wanted to focus on. Now we’re looking at expanding to provide communications support to the other senior centers in Boulder County,” said Cindy Clark, a committee member for Dementia Friendly Boulder County and the community living programs director for Boulder County Community Services.

“By pulling the various segments of the community together for support, people can remain in their communities for a longer period of time.”

While the volunteers for Dementia Friendly Boulder County are not licensed clinicians, they all have experience in some form of dealing with dementia patients and can help in the communication process.

For example, if an employee suspects a customer has some sort of dementia, Dementia Friendly Boulder County teaches them to always approach the person from the front, engage and include the care partner in the conversation and speak slowly to allow time for the person to process and respond. They also recommend businesses keep public areas well lit and provide limited menus to reduce the number of options from which dementia patients have to choose.

When the training is completed, Dementia Friendly Boulder County provides a sticker to businesses to hang in windows to let people know they are prepared for customers suffering from dementia. Ultimately, it plans to build an online map with which dementia patients can plan their outings.

In addition to the training sessions, Dementia Friendly Boulder County also worked with senior centers in Boulder and Longmont to try to expand the prevalence of memory cafes and lunch groups where people with dementia can gather and socialize without fear of being ostracized.

While the Longmont and Boulder senior centers were already working to build similar programs — such as the Senior Services Calendar — within their own organizations, by teaming up with the Alzheimer’s Association, Boulder County Community Services, and other community senior centers, they hope these best practices can be spread quicker and more efficiently.

In particular, Hayden said, in the coming year Dementia Friendly Boulder County hopes to work with more banks and financial institutions to help those affected by dementia avoid scams and financial fraud.

John Spina: 303-473-1389, jspina@times-call.com or twitter.com/jsspina24