Elgin the latest to join 'dementia-friendly' communities
A person frets waiting for a husband or wife to come home, except the spouse has long been dead.
Someone forgets how to drive a familiar route, or has a hard time following storylines on a favorite TV show.
Those are some possible signs of dementia, a condition that strikes increasingly large numbers of people across the suburbs. Some towns are joining the effort to recognize and respond to the needs of this growing population.
Elgin and Glencoe recently were welcomed into the Dementia Friendly America network, said Mary Ek, interim project director for Dementia Friendly America. They joined Grayslake -- the first in Illinois in 2016 -- North Chicago/Lake County, Evanston, River Forest and Kankakee County.
Joining the DFA network means the communities are committing "to continuing this work, to sharing resources they develop and to collaborate with other communities in the work they are doing and sharing ideas," Ek said. "Ideally, we would like each state to have a network of resources."
If you think dementia doesn't affect your family or friends, you're missing the big picture, says Glenna Godinsky, a staff member at Elgin's Gail Borden Public Library, whose initiatives in the past year led to the city's inclusion as a dementia-friendly town.
"We are driving with people who have dementia. We are shopping with them. We are going to the library with them," Godinsky said. "It's a community issue."
A dementia-friendly advisory council in Elgin includes the library, the mayor, a law firm that works with elder law, home care providers, the office of state Sen. Cristina Castro, Advocate Sherman Hospital, the Elgin Police Department and the Elgin Fire Department, said Godinsky, who works as life enrichment liaison for the library.
Godinsky is part of a team that offers "memory cafes" in English and Spanish. Those are gatherings held at the library and local restaurants for people with dementia and their caregivers that offer guided, fun activities and a chance to meet others who share common experiences.
The library also holds programs such as "fun and facts" and "cruisin' the country" at senior living communities in the area.
Godinsky and Justine Barton, a former staff member at a senior facility in Elgin, held a dementia-friendly training for Gail Borden library staff members. KCT Bank, which has a branch inside the library, is interested in training its employees, Godinsky said.
The training gives an overview of the types and causes of dementia, the behaviors that people with dementia exhibit, and communication strategies for those who interact with people with dementia, Godinsky said.
Some examples? Make sure spaces are brightly lighted and have little background noise, slow down your speech and be patient while the person formulates a response, she said. "Give it a whole 10 seconds," she said. "It can feel like an eternity ... but it gives time to them to really get their thoughts out."
Declining cognitive abilities, most commonly caused by Alzheimer's disease, affect an estimated 230,000 people in Illinois, and that number is expected to increase by 13% by 2025, according to the latest Alzheimer's Association report.
The number of people affected is even greater when you include "informal caregivers" such as spouses, children, daughters- and sons-in-law and friends, said Dr. Raj C. Shah, associate professor of family medicine with the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center and the state's technical support person for Dementia Friendly America.
Bringing awareness of dementia into the community means creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment for people with dementia, who too often become isolated, Shah said.
"People with dementia still have a voice and a say in their communities, and there is need for them to be included in activities," he said.
The simplest thing individuals can do is watch videos on DementiaFriendsUSA.org to become "dementia friends," Shah said. Illinois is among 20 states that also offer in-person sessions.
The effort in Grayslake was led by Mike Steiner, who runs a Right at Home caregiving service in the community. Police and firefighters received training, and others in the community were offered resources to help businesses and service providers learn how to interact with people who have dementia.
Steiner said he hopes many more communities will follow suit. Just recently, he was contacted by people interested in extending the program to Deerfield and Naperville, he said.
"I feel so passionately about this," he said. "It's a resource issue. We need more of it."