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Dementia-friendly Community Program Founded by Wisconsin RN


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By E’Louise Ondash, RN

February 5, 2014 - Henry, a man in his late 60s, was, by his son’s description, living somewhere between early- and mid-stage dementia.

His short-term memory was gone, but he was still physically capable--and that was the problem. Henry (not his real name) still thought he could drive, but his children knew better. They had taken away the car after their father had several episodes of getting lost and running red lights.

Forgetting that his children had confiscated his car, Henry somehow made his way to an auto dealer in Southern California and quickly bought a car. Henry even asked the salesman for a ride to the bank; the salesman didn’t hesitate, nor did the teller when Henry asked for nearly $25,000 in cash.

When Henry’s son discovered what his father had done, he returned the car and appealed several times for a refund. The dealership refused, so the son called the local newspaper. The pressure of public outrage forced the auto dealer to return the $25,000.

This story might have ended at the bank teller’s window if the employees at Henry’s bank had been trained under a dementia awareness program like the one in Watertown, Wis. (population 24,000). The 25 employees at the State Bank of Reeseville have learned how to recognize and serve people with dementia and their caregivers.

“The reasons we got involved were personal,” said Justin Pratt, 25, consumer lending officer. “All of us have had experience with a family member or a friend who has gone through Alzheimer’s disease, so it struck a personal chord.”

Jan Zimmerman started a dementia awareness coalition.
Jan Zimmerman, RN, started the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition to help the memory-impaired continue a normal life as long as possible in an environment where they can stay safe and feel that they belong.

Pratt said bank employees saw a feature in the Wisconsin State Journal about the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition started by Jan Zimmerman, RN. She is administrator and director of nursing at Heritage Homes, a nearby senior residential community.

“I called [Zimmerman] and she came to a staff training day,” Pratt explained. “Now we are a part of the coalition of businesses in Watertown that meets monthly.”

The goals of a dementia-friendly community, according to Zimmerman and the coalition, are to enable memory-impaired or brain-injured people to continue a normal life as long as possible, to stay in touch with family and friends, and to feel that they are safe and that they belong.

Zimmerman, a veteran nurse who has worked with the elderly for more than 20 years, learned about the dementia-awareness program when a speaker from the United Kingdom made a presentation at Heritage Homes. After hearing it, “I thought it would be a good idea if our local businesses could become more dementia-aware,” she said. “I talked to Michael Klatt, CEO of the Lutheran Homes Association, and he was extremely supportive. He has allowed us to use marketing funds to do printing and mailing, and to bring in speakers and set up a website.”

Zimmerman has worked on several fronts to make life in Watertown easier for those with dementia. She also has developed pocket-sized cards that people with memory loss can present at retail establishments. They indicate that the customer may have a problem communicating or may need extra time to complete a transaction.

Dementia-friendly businesses display the purple angel logo.
Businesses in Watertown, Wis., that have educated their employees on dementia awareness can display this purple angel logo as a sign that they are dementia-friendly.

And then there is the purple angel logo.

“When a business decides that they wish to participate, they sign a pledge to become dementia-aware,” Zimmerman said. “When their staff has obtained training related to dementia and how they can better provide service to those with dementia, they get a purple angel for their window.”

A purple angel adorns the window at the Connection Café near Heritage Homes. Owners Mike and Tammi Cederberg and their four employees took the awareness training. They learned, for instance, that if a customer who ordered coffee doesn’t remember doing so when served, the approach is to not to try to convince the customer otherwise.

“The employee will just say, ‘Here, this is for you,’” and leave it at that, Cederberg explained. This generally pleases customers.

The café also has become the monthly meeting place for people with dementia and their caregivers. Besides being with those who have a similar problem, the meeting also serves to eliminate the isolation often felt by people with dementia and their caregivers, Zimmerman said.

As for the banking industry, Pratt said, the dementia-awareness program actually serves its clients better than the elder financial abuse policies because it is more inclusive. “Elder abuse policies leave out people who are younger but who also can be victims of Alzheimer’s. We recognize this as an important issue because we are in an industry that sees people of all ages and walks of life.”

As a result of the dementia-awareness program, another program in Watertown has come to light. Called Premise Alert, it registers community residents with dementia, mental illnesses and brain injuries. Firefighters and police check the roster when called out for emergencies, and if their victim or suspect is on the list, “they go in prepared,” Zimmerman said. “In talking with others, no one knew about this program [until we started the dementia-awareness program]. Now my goal is getting this information out to others.”

For more information, visit dementia-aware.com.



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