Dementia Friendly Reading organizers

Key figures in the Dementia Friendly Reading movement are (L-R) Gregg Johnson, Meagan Putney & Bruce Johnson.

Dementia Friendly Reading (DFR) was launched in Reading in late 2017 by community leaders of all ages and backgrounds to establish Reading as a town that empowers those with dementia and their caregivers to feel valued and actively engaged in the community. It is sponsored by the David K. Johnson Foundation and consists of a volunteer leadership team made up of various sectors of the community including the police, the library, banking, housing, the Reading public schools and Elder Human Services.

Dementia Friendly Reading is part of a larger initiative called Dementia Friendly Massachusetts. Dementia Friendly Massachusetts is a grassroots movement that was started to accelerate the creation and expansion of dementia friendly systems within the state. Dementia Friendly Massachusetts works in coordination with Dementia Friends USA for education and training and works closely with the MA/NH Alzheimer’s Association which offers Alzheimer’s care, support and research.

Dementia awareness and treatment recently got a boost from the state when Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation to enhance efforts in training front line caregivers “on recognizing and treating dementia more effectively, and working with families of loved ones to prepare and manage the effects of Alzheimer’s.”

The mission of Dementia Friendly Reading can be summed up by its 3-R’s: RECOGNIZE - Spread awareness about dementia and inform the community on resources to become dementia-friendly; RESPECT - Ensure individuals living with dementia feel welcomed, valued and engaged; REIMAGINE - Fight the stigma of dementia by helping those living with dementia and their caregivers to feel supported in our community.

According to DFR’s website, dementia is not a specific disease. Rather, it is a general term that describes changes in thinking such as memory loss and difficulty in planning and communicating. Alzheimer’s disease is the leading cause of dementia but other diseases such as parkinson’s, lewy body, vascular diseases and traumatic brain injuries can also cause dementia.

Dementia is not a normal part of aging and approximately 5.4 million people in the United States are living with dementia, 130,000 of them in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, I in 4 go undiagnosed and 7 out of 10 people with dementia live alone. DFR believes that it’s still possible to have a good quality of life with dementia. There is more to a person than their dementia and those living with its symptoms are valuable members of our community.

Today DFR’s leadership team has trained over 300 residents and 14 organizations representing major sectors of our community through workshops designed to educate and build awareness about dementia. The Burbank YMCA’s staff through its director, John Feudo, was the first community organization to be recognized as a Dementia Friendly Organization. “We are thrilled to have the Dementia Friendly designation,” stated John. “We are an organization that serves the entire community and for us it’s about sending the message to our members that we are equipped, we are caring and knowledgeable, and we are here to help people.”

In addition to the Burbank YMCA , Reading’s Police and Fire Departments, the Reading Animal Clinic, Northern Bank, Lee Kimball Associates, the Pleasant Street Senior Center, Sanborn Housing, Artis Senior Living, the Residents of Pearl Street and the Law Office of Brian Snell have all received the Dementia Friendly Reading designation. Reading Rotary and Reading Cooperative Bank will be joining this month.

There are many benefits to becoming a Dementia Friendly Reading business or organization including being recognized as a community partner and social leader, increasing customer and employee satisfaction, and enabling your business or group to provide better customer service.

It’s also very easy to achieve the designation. It requires the management or community leader to be trained and a commitment to get 50% of customer-facing employees or members trained with a goal of 100%. Groups and businesses must also pledge to train new employees or members and periodically refresh training as new information becomes available. Additionally, businesses or community organizations agree to review information on environmental changes and consider improvements and establish policies and practices to support employee or member caregivers.

Contact Meagan Putney at meagan@dfreading.org to learn how you, your business or organization can be recognized as dementia friendly. “The leadership team also welcomes any new community members who are interested in joining our efforts in spreading dementia awareness in our community. It’s a great way to get involved in a critical initiative that makes a meaningful impact in our town.”

The next Dementia Friendly Reading workshop will be held on Wednesday, February 26th from 5:30-6:30pm at Lee Kimball Design Studio, 606 Main Street, Suite 3003 in Reading. Meagan invites you to join Reading Rotary for socializing and light refreshments after the workshop. All are welcome! To sign up and to learn more about the initiative, please visit dfreading.org.

Authors Note: A special thanks to Meagan Putney for her input in the preparation of this Spotlight.

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