Jessica Sumlin serves Sue Brown, Faye Casey and Margaret Croft breakfast at The Hen House Café in Inverness on Thursday. The Hen House was the frst business in Citrus County to be certifed as Dementia Friendly, after the staff received training from Hoping with Dementia LLC.
Businesses, churches throughout Citrus County gain dementia-friendly training
Michael D. bates – Staff Writer Citrus county Chronicle
Given the large number of small businesses in Citrus County, it is vital that owners accommodate as many people as possible, and that includes customers with dementia, according to Debbie Selsavage.
But so many business employees lack the training to deal with those people, she said.
That’s why Selsavage founded Coping with Dementia LLC., which specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia care training and works with businesses to get employees educated about the disease.
Individuals who complete the course receive a handbook and a wallet card verifying their training. Businesses offering the training to their employees receive a certificate, a “Dementia-Friendly Business” door or window sticker, and a poster to remind their employees of the special needs of individuals suffering from dementia.
Selsavage has the credentials: she is a former Alzheimer’s caregiver, an assisted-living facility licensed administrator, a member of the Alzheimer’s Family Organization Board of Directors, and a certified trainer for Positive Approach to Care.
“We need to change the culture of how we look at dementia and provide these people with dignity that they’ve had their whole life and look past the disease,” she said. “We’re not asking (businesses) to make big changes.”
Selsavage has trained almost 25 businesses and churches since starting her program almost two years ago. Selsavage said training takes as little as 90 minutes and is tailored to meet the needs of the particular business.
The Hen House Café, at 206 Tompkins St., Inverness, became the first business in Citrus County in 2015 to be certified as dementia-friendly.
At The Hen House, Selsavage taught employees the “approach technique.” Because dementia patients have bad peripheral vision, staffers are told not to approach them from the side or back because it can frighten them and their first reaction might be to strike out. Instead, approach them directly at eye level.
Also, slow down speech patterns to allow dementia patients to better understand.
“It takes a person with dementia about 30 seconds to really process and figure out who is standing in front of them,” Selsavage said.
She recalls one incident at The Hen House where a couple came in, sat down at a table, and the wife had to use the bathroom. The husband, who had dementia, suddenly became agitated, got up and started walking around. One of the trained employees engaged the man calmly, told him to come back to the table and calmed him down by sharing a newspaper section with him until his wife returned.
A potentially volatile situation was averted and the couple enjoyed their meal, she said.
Kimberly Speckner, owner of The Hen House Cafe, called Selsavage “amazing” and is glad that others in the county are taking advantage of the training.
“(Training) was about an hour-and-a-half and it has paid off very well for us,” Speckner said. “It made the staff (more) aware. Many, many attributes came from that.”
Shannon Burns, co-owner of Aunt Martha’s Produce in Floral City, said she and her staff underwent the dementia-friendly training about one year ago and it has led to happy customers and a more comfortable environment for those with the disease and their caregivers.
Burns said it’s little things that help, such as not reaching around from the back and alarming them.
“It’s made the difference,” Burns said. “There were some things I didn’t know and it really helped me and the staff be aware of some issues. We get a lot of people in here who have dementia and who are with their caregivers.
“Basically, we let them know that we know and it’s OK,” Burns said. “You can literally see the difference on people’s faces as soon as they know you understand. You can tell how grateful they are.”
Church pastors have also taken the dementia-friendly course and it allows those with the disease to continue to attend on Sunday. Dementia patients enjoy music, and in church — where there are plenty of hymns — they find a safe haven, Selsavage said.
Ron Pfeifer, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Inverness, received his training about a month ago. He and his staff, together with 40-50 people from the congregation, attended an evening session.
“I think it was a really helpful thing for us to do as a congregation,” he said. “I know I learned a lot about dementia. It eliminated some myths. “(But) the real value I see, as a pastor, is that church — being a family — our family has people in it who have dementia. We love them and care about them and we want to be able to support them and their caregivers the best we can.”