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Working toward a dementia-friendly community
Michael D. Bates Staff Writer
Citrus County Chronicle

Twenty-five years ago, handicapped people had a hard time getting out to stores and public places because there were no ramps, designated parking spots or specially equipped bathrooms.

Today, thanks to strict Americans with Disabilities Act laws, these people can patronize stores and function in the community instead of being stuck at home.

But when it comes to people with dementia, many of the doors to the community remain closed, not only due to the lack of building amenities but also to a societal stigma that continues to marginalize caregivers and the elderly who have the disease. Ask a son or daughter who has taken mom or dad to a restaurant and endured stares
from patrons when mom or dad suddenly takes the salt shaker and starts emptying its contents on the floor.

Or if a panicked dementia person starts shouting because his spouse left him alone for five minutes because she
had to use the bathroom. A few embarrassing incidents such as that and caregivers and patients decide to just stay home and stop going out in public. They become prisoners of their four walls and no longer venture out.

Elaine Bamford and Galen Spinka are working to change that.

Bamford, a former teacher and registered nurse, is a support group facilitator with the national Alzheimer’s Association. Spinka is owner of Comfort Keepers. Both are part of a group hoping to make Citrus County one of a handful of pilot communities in the nation to be designated dementia-friendly and receive certification through the national group Dementia Friendly America.

Bamford said the mission is three-pronged: to educate the public about the signs and symptoms of dementia; provide resources and make them readily available to the caregiver and patient; and eliminate the stigma of dementia to keep them functioning in the community as long as possible.

Bamford has been there. Her husband was 67 years old when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. She quit
her job to care for him at home and attended support groups to deal with it. The disease progressed and Bamford admitted him to a nursing home the last three years of his life.

She wants to make it easier for others to function in society and ease the way for dementia patients and their caregivers to patronize stores and attend functions.

Certifying Citrus County as a Dementia-Friendly Community is vital in Citrus County, where about 6,500 residents have dementia, Bamford said. Thirty-five percent of residents here are 65 and older, making Citrus the third oldest county in Florida. Only Sumter County (55 percent) and Charlotte County (38.4 percent) have larger senior populations.

Spinka said the goal is for local businesses to train their staff to recognize customers exhibiting signs of dementia and learn techniques to wait on them.

Too many times, a visit to the store or a business is uncomfortable for everyone involved — the person with dementia, the caregiver and the employees. As a result, those with dementia stop shopping which causes that store to
lose business.

“This is both a health issue and an economic issue,” Spinka said.

Heather Yates, spokeswoman for the Citrus County Sheriff ’s Office and a committee member of Citrus County Dementia Friendly America, knows how dementia can tear apart lives and a community because she and her family have been dealing with it since her dad was diagnosed.

The first thing people need to do when they see their loved exhibiting symptoms is seek medical help, she said. Often, unpredictable behavior can be related to medications and early onset can be treated.

Once family members receive the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Yates said it’s vital to become educated about it and accept the fact that it is terminal. Too often, people want to pretend things will get better. “A lot of families that go
through this are in denial,” she said. “The last thing a family wants to hear is that this is Alzheimer’s or that this is something that is not going to go away,” Yates said.

Failing to accept it will ”make you crazy,” she added.

By coming to terms with the disease, it will be easier to figure out what kind of care options are available, she said.
Yates said dementia awareness is increasing but there is still a long way to go to erase the stigma.

“We need to educate our community,” she said. “There are people out in our community with dementia, they are buying things, they are going to banks and restaurants. Our community needs to embrace them somehow but they need to be educated about this disease and what it does to you.”

Yates, Bamford, Spinka and others will move forward in the coming months to raise awareness of dementia.

“The action team will continue to build the plan that will make Citrus County dementia-friendly and bring those people who have dementia back into our community,” Spinka said. “That’s our goal.”
Posted on 17 Mar 2017

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