POWELL — So often, those living with dementia can become forgotten in society as they fade away from social settings as a result of their disease. However, one woman is on a mission to ensure that the community she calls home is as inviting as possible to those inflicted with dementia, as well as their caregivers.
Anne Farley’s career as the community relations director for The Ganzhorn Suites, a specialized memory care assisted living community in Powell, has given her a first-hand view of the challenges associated with isolation.
“I am meeting with caregivers constantly who have loved ones still living at home, and one of the challenges for them is always that they can become very isolated at home with their loved one dealing with dementia,” Farley said.
She added isolation is “primarily because it’s not always easy to be out in the community, at businesses, patronizing places with someone who has dementia, for a variety of reasons.” Among those reasons, she said the behavior of someone suffering from dementia can, at times, be embarrassing in a public setting.
“Things like that can preclude people from really still feeling like a part of the community where they live,” Farley said. “After I heard these types of things from caregivers … I just thought, ‘Wow, how cool would it be if this wonderful little city of Powell could become more dementia-friendly?’”
A longtime resident, Farley said that Powell being a small, bedroom community that is already so warm and inviting to all types of people made it the perfect place to start such an initiative. She began by reaching out to then-Powell Mayor Jon Bennehoof to make sure she wasn’t misguided.
With the support of Bennehoof, Farley then formed a steering committee last year to get the ball rolling on making Powell a dementia-friendly community.
Asked what her vision of a “dementia-friendly community” looks like, Farley said, “First of all, that businesses and organizations would want to know and understand a little bit more about dementia, because I think there are so many misnomers and misconceptions about what dementia is and what it looks like.”
Building off that initial step, Farley said the conversation then would switch to what those businesses and organizations can do to make the dementia-friendly community a reality.
“Maybe it’s offering a special time, a special day that people living with dementia, as well as their caregivers, can patronize those businesses and be welcomed,” Farley said, adding that those times could be during the less-frequented times of days for a restaurant, for example.
By doing so, Farley anticipates the staff of those establishments will learn how best to respond to some of the unusual behaviors and, in turn, will begin to talk and spread their experiences in the community.
“The care partners start developing this secondary support system and the people living with dementia can feel normal,” Farley said. “They still want to go out and be able to have a beer. They still want to be able to go have dinner with their spouses or their children.”
Other examples Farley offered up included special times and days at the YMCA for caregivers and those living with dementia to be able to go work out together, and she said she found the idea of these people not being able to go to church for fear of doing something embarrassing especially upsetting.
Farley said it would be “wonderful” if a “consortium of churches” in and around Powell would designate a day where those living with dementia and their caregivers could attend a service geared toward them, one where their behavior wouldn’t matter, so they may stay connected to their faith.
To identify the different businesses that have made a commitment to being more welcoming to dementia-stricken patrons, Farley said she envisions a welcome mat of sorts at the entrances to signify their support.
Farley added the community has already been very receptive to her initiative, and the City of Powell showed its support during Tuesday’s city council meeting by presenting a proclamation to Farley and the Dementia Friendly Powell Initiative.
“The City of Powell encourages our local businesses and organizations to become a care partner by creating special programs, events, activities, and providing discounts to those with dementia or their care providers,” part of the proclamation reads.
“To me, it means that they get it, that they understand the importance and the impact of this disease, not just on our community but the country and the world,” Farley said of the city’s show of commitment. “And (the disease) is not going away … If we can’t beat it then let’s create an environment of compassion, support and love.”
Farley hopes Tuesday’s proclamation and recognition of her efforts will serve as the official kickoff to her initiative in Powell, with businesses beginning to get in touch with her about what they can do to play their role.
Ultimately, Farley hopes that by creating a more inclusive community for those living with dementia, the stigma that is still attached to the diseases will fade away rather than the people suffering through it.
“When you don’t understand something, you can be frightened of it,” Farley said of the existing stigma. “So, the more that they’re out in the community being normalized, that stigma goes away and then the people living with dementia will feel more welcomed.”
Farley said she is always looking for like-minded, passionate people who would like to be a part of the steering committee and what she labeled “the movement.” For anyone who would like to join the cause, Farley can be reached by phone at 614-398-9333 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.