Types of Dementia

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The Shift Toward a Dementia Friendly World

by Richard O'Boyle, Editor

According to the World Health Organization, 47.5 million people have dementia worldwide, with nearly 7.7 million new cases diagnosed each year. Dementia – a syndrome which affects an individual’s ability to retain thoughts and memory – can seriously impede on one’s quality of life. Performing everyday activities, feeling connected with friends, family or peers, and maintaining a high level of emotional health are all prone to deteriorate when dementia is present. The condition mainly affects older individuals, and while it is a known symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, the underlying cause of a loss of cognitive abilities is not easily understood or recognized.

One of the most pressing issues birthed out of the dementia epidemic is the progressive nature of the condition and the social constraints that places on patients and the communities in which they live. Over time, individuals become less able to function well on their own and need to support of those around them to continue leading a healthy, fruitful life. Because the epidemic of dementia has continued to plagues millions of individuals each and every year, and there is currently no cure for the condition, more countries are taking steps to raise awareness from a community level through dementia-friendly initiatives.

Defining Dementia-friendly Communities

In the last five years, the term dementia-friendly community has piggybacked off the initiative for establishing an age-friendly environment as a method to empower all members of society to live inclusively. Dementia-friendly communities are designed to remind individuals that while dementia creates, at times, severe cognitive impairment, those living with dementia have the right to be treated with as much dignity and respect as people without the condition. Communities that follow a dementia-friendly credo embrace initiatives to assist older adults with dementia to lead autonomous lives as active, contributing members of society.

The concept of dementia-friendly communities was initially developed by the World Health Organization in an effort to promote equality and provide assistance to community members of all ages. As million of additional cases of dementia are diagnosed each year, it has become increasingly important to provide access to support and community services that allow older individuals that opportunity to stay connected with their family and friends.

Advantages to Dementia-friendly Communities

Dementia-friendly communities were first created with the help of individuals with dementia as a way to identify important aspects of the initiative which would suit their needs in the best possible way. Through the development stage, older individuals highlighted five critical aspects of community life that were of the utmost importance to them, including:

  • Physical environment

  • Local facilities

  • Support services

  • Social networks

  • Local groups

In addition to including these highlighted areas, dementia-friendly communities are tasked with specific tasks to create a safe space for individuals with cognitive impairment. The main steps communities take to become dementia-friendly are improving awareness of dementia and its symptoms, providing support to local groups that serve people with dementia along with their caregivers, offer information in an accessible way that highlights local services and facilities, and creating methods to make mainstream services and facilities more accessible to older adults. The combination of the areas of importance and the actions taken by community members provides individuals with dementia a higher degree of inclusive within the community without shame or embarrassment.

One of the more robust attributes of a dementia-friendly community is its members’ ability to recognize and subsequently utilize available resources to help individuals with dementia or their family members. A representative from a leading medical negligence solicitor firm in the UK explains that when there is a case of negligent care for an individual with dementia, services like the family clinic can be vital to acquiring the support necessary to manage an otherwise difficult situation. With the family clinic, friends, caregivers, or family members have the option to request legal advice and professional support to protect the individual’s best interest. Legal services like this plus open-arms medical, mental health, and support group facilities work in tandem to effect a high quality of life for dementia patients.

As the race to find a cure for dementia and other cognitive impairments heats up throughout the world, some countries have publicly embraced the idea of transitioning to a dementia-friendly community. In 2015, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt pronounced that the UK had plans to be the most dementia-friendly country in the world by the year 2020. Similarly, the United States signed into law the National Alzheimer’s Project Act, or NAPA, in 2011, which seeks to find a cure or treatment for the disease by the year 2025. These country-wide efforts in marriage with a shift toward dementia-friendly communities reduces the stigma surrounding cognitive impairment in older individuals and offers an opportunity to dementia patients to live an engaged life – no matter where they are in the world.