Training Compassionate Community Members

Training Compassionate Community Members

March 12, 2019

Imagine a woman who worked as a real estate agent all her life and sported crisp business suits every day as she moved about the community, meeting with clients and showing them homes.

Now imagine that same woman is an older adult living with dementia. She does not know that she is no longer a Realtor, yet she still dresses up each day and goes out into town. Her suit is not so crisp. She’s wearing a wig, which is askew, and her lipstick is smudged.

This is an example that Laura Lavoie, our director of life enrichment, has offered to area residents attending one of her Dementia Friends information sessions.

“We’re raising awareness about what’s happening in the brain of someone who has dementia, and what they might experience as a result,” explains Laura, who has also been training Glenmeadow staff in providing the best dementia care possible. “Where people might have laughed at some of these symptoms before, the goal is that they’ll leave these sessions with a greater level of sensitivity and understanding.”

The goal is for people in any community to show compassion and empathy to those living with dementia.

In recent years, we have enhanced the care that we offer to people living with dementia and their families by adding innovative programs and services that support them in new and better ways. We now have several monthly support groups and new targeted services.

In 2018, we were also key in helping to bring to Longmeadow the Dementia Friendly Longmeadow initiative—a national movement focused on educating people about what it’s like to live with Alzheimer’s or another dementia.

Together with the Longmeadow Council on Aging, JGS Lifecare, the Alzheimer’s Association, and its volunteer Judy Yaffe, of Longmeadow, we offered informative programs and presentations throughout the year. And in December 2018, the Alzheimer’s Association officially designated Longmeadow as a Dementia Friendly Town.

Our work in this area is ongoing, and in recent months, Laura has begun offering hour-long Dementia Friends information sessions in the community. So far, she has held over a half dozen sessions at schools and places of worship, and she looks forward to holding more.

In addition to reaching out to the community, we are also focused on enhancing dementia programming for residents. Laura is in the process of training every Glenmeadow employee with six hours of dementia-specific training.  And we are currently searching for the right person to join the team as a dementia-specific life enrichment assistant to support these new initiatives.

In the Dementia Friendly information sessions, Laura teaches five key messages about dementia. Because they are proprietary, Laura is not at liberty to outline them.

“We discuss how it’s necessary to make eye contact with people who have dementia, as well as to approach them from the front so as not to surprise them,” Laura says. “But the absolute most important thing anyone should learn from these seminars is that there is more to a person than their dementia. People with dementia can have a good quality of life, especially with the support of people in the community.”

Participants receive a workbook to complete, and they have the opportunity to become a Dementia Friend. “Being a Dementia Friend might mean that they’ll be more patient with someone, or that they’ll take time out of their day to be with someone who has dementia,” Laura says.

Individuals or organizations interested in scheduling an information session are invited to contact Laura at 413-355-5905 or llavoie@glenmeadow.org.

In addition to attending a session, people can help forward the compassionate momentum by finding out if their community is dementia friendly. Laura suggests people check with the town clerk or senior center.

“If you find your community is not dementia friendly, see how you might help it to become so,” she says.

Laura adds, “If everyone in town does one thing, we can be a much friendlier place for people living with dementia. The more people we can get involved in this initiative, the better. Together, we can really make a difference in people’s lives.”

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