SOMERS POINT — City Council recently passed a resolution that makes Somers Point the first “dementia friendly” city in New Jersey. The measure was brought to City Council President Sean McGuigan by Carolyn Peterson, director of marketing and community relations with Right at Home in-home care and support, along with Mary Beth Lewis of the Alzheimer’s Association. According to Peterson, 30 states are part of the Dementia Friendly America network but New Jersey was not among them. Lewis and Peterson started a grass roots effort to develop the New Jersey Dementia Friendly Task Force. Right now, they are working in Cape May and Atlantic counties with hopes to go statewide.
Five million people live with dementia in the U.S., and the number is growing as the baby boomers age and the need to keep people living with dementia as well as their caregivers the ability to thrive and remain engaged is crucial, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Support through socialization for both the person living with dementia and their caregiver can have a very positive impact on the quality of life for those people, Peterson said.
Peterson said she works with several groups to provide that support through socialization at the Atlantic County Library, Ventnor branch, and at the Cape May County Library, Villas branch. “Bringing people together, the care partners as well as the person living with dementia, allows them to meet new people and to continue to experience new things and keeps them engaged and living their best life,” she said.
One of the groups Peterson said they hope to work with is the Somers Point Business Association. Part of what they would do would be to work with some SPBA members so they in turn would be able to work with their employees to understand and empathize with those living with dementia.
Peterson said gave the example of a situation in which a server in a restaurant might not be aware of the signs and symptoms of dementia and can’t understand the customer or lose patience when the person with dementia has trouble processing information quickly or has no filter and says whatever pops into their head.
“If we are able to work with the businesses and, for example, in a restaurant the server knows the signals of a person living with dementia and knows what to possibly expect, that can go a long way to making the person and their care giver more comfortable and create a positive experience rather than a stressful one,” Peterson said. “Some people do not realize how much it takes for a person with dementia to process information. Their short-term memory is not what it was.”
Just a few things that the Dementia Friendly Task Force would share with businesses and their employees:
• Some people with dementia have difficulty reading, and something as simple as a restroom sign should have a picture and not just words.
• Speak to people living with dementia at eye level and watch their body language. They can be quite introverted and easily frightened of their surroundings.
• For caregivers, Peterson said, they suggest they make up something like a business card and give it to the server when you are seated that indicates they are with someone with a memory issue — it is a positive way to quietly advocate for the person living with dementia.
The resolution calls for empathetic and sympathetic support from local government and from the community. After passing the resolution unanimously, McGuigan asked Peterson and Lewis what the City Council members could do to help the task force reach its goal to make Somers Point a city that enables people living with dementia to continue living in the community while engaging and thriving in their daily lives. Peterson said the unanimous vote is a good first step and Peterson and Lewis hope to meet soon with members of the SPBA to start putting their plans for a dementia-friendly Somers Point in action. The next governing body Peterson said they will be addressing is Northfield City Council in September.
For those who provide care for someone living with dementia, the third annual Seminar by the Shore, South Jersey Dementia Conference will be held Sept. 12 and 13 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. Topics will include tips for caregiver survival and giving caregiver guilt the boot. Speakers and workshops will be presented throughout the two-day seminar. Respite care will be available. The Virtual Dementia Tour will be offered. The VDT is an individualized experience through simulated dementia created for family members, organizations and health care professionals who are looking to better understand the physical and mental challenges of their loved ones or patients, Peterson said. The VDT allows individuals to briefly walk in the dementia patients’ shoes. “It creates a new level of understanding of someone living with dementia,” Peterson said.
To learn more about the New Jersey Dementia Task Force or how to have a municipality included in in the Dementia Friendly New Jersey movement, email Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org. To register or get more information on the Seminar by the Sea, South Jersey Dementia Conference, email Lewis at email@example.com.