How to Create Dementia-Friendly Communities

CFAR | August 22, 2017 | by Steven Syre

An important first step in supporting dementia-friendly communities is to assess and promote existing support services, while simultaneously raising awareness about gaps in services, according to a new research report.

A new report from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation features recommendations for building age- and dementia-friendly communities in Massachusetts to serve growing numbers of older adults and individuals with dementia and their caregivers.

A Report on Demographics, Programs, and Services for an Age- and Dementia-Friendly Commonwealth: What We Have and What We Need was produced by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Gerontology Institute.

“One of the recommendations in the report is to be deliberate in coordinating efforts between age-friendly and dementia-friendly efforts,” said Nora Moreno Cargie, president of Tufts Health Plan Foundation and vice president for corporate citizenship for Tufts Health Plan. “By working together, we are stronger in providing what communities need.”

LONGEVITY: OPPORTUNITES AND CHALLENGES

Life expectancy for most adults has increased by almost 30 years since the 1900s, according to the report. This “longevity bonus” creates exciting opportunities and significant challenges for individuals and for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“Longer life spans can offer the chance for multiple careers, new ways to volunteer, or even something as simple as enjoying time with your great-grandchildren,” the report begins. “Yet as the number of older adults has risen, so too have rates of various age-related illnesses and disabilities, which strain health care systems, caregivers, and, of course, the older adults themselves. One of the most significant age-related conditions is dementia.”

By 2030, more than one-quarter of New England residents will be 60 years or older, says the report. The statewide dementia rate for adults age 65 and older is 14%, while the dementia rate in some Massachusetts communities exceeds 20%.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

An important first step in supporting dementia-friendly communities is to assess and promote existing support services, while simultaneously raising awareness about gaps in services, say the researchers. People living with dementia and their caregivers can commonly feel lonely and isolated, so access to support services like memory cafes and adult day programs are critical, they write.

“Our aim is to not ‘reinvent the wheel,’ but to facilitate and accelerate stakeholder progress in making Massachusetts a great place to grow up and grow old in,” said UMass Boston Associate Professor Elizabeth Dugan, who led the research team.

Some of the key findings noted in the report include:

  • Lack of awareness: Researchers found that most community stakeholders do not understand the prevalence of dementia in their communities.
  • Lack of services and supports: Most areas of Massachusetts lack basic dementia-friendly services and supports, such as adult day health programs, support groups, and assisted living communities with dementia care settings. Even densely populated areas like Boston are underserved.
  • High need among vulnerable populations: The need for services and supports is pronounced for vulnerable populations across Massachusetts, including older adults who live alone, belong to racial minorities, speak English as a second language, or are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid.

“These findings can help stakeholders understand and identify what assets and services — including those that already exist, and those that are lacking — (are needed) to create more welcoming and supportive communities for people living with dementia and their caregivers,” says an Aug. 1 post on the Gerontology Institute Blog.

The Tufts Health Plan Foundation report includes several recommendations for creating welcoming and supportive communities, including:

  • Increase awareness of dementia prevalence rates and trends.
  • Develop and disseminate toolkits and resources on building age- and dementia-friendly communities.
  • Target underserved communities to help build their capacity for dementia-friendly work.

ABOUT THE GERONTOLOGY INSTITUTE

The Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston carries out basic and applied social and economic research on aging and engages in public education on aging policy issues, with an emphasis on 4 areas: income security, health (including long-term care), productive aging (including transportation), and basic social and demographic research on aging.

Earlier this year, LeadingAge joined with the Gerontology Institute to create a new research center called the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston. For more information about the new center, see Answering Your Questions about the New LeadingAge LTSS Center.