New program teaches how to recognize, help those struggling with dementia – The Oakland Press

The Dementia Friends program aims to raise awareness, fight stigma, sensitize participants and provide practical ways they can take action to support people living with dementia in the community. (Photo courtesy of Metro Creative Connection)

You may have seen an elderly person at the market confused by the variety of products on the shelves. Perhaps a neighbor is walking up and down the same street and can’t seem to find his house. Maybe you’re standing next to someone who’s trying to order food but doesn’t understand the menu.

You might be confused, irritated, or even anxious. Or you could see this as an opportunity to help someone in your community who is suffering from dementia.

With an estimated 6.5 million Americans age 65 and older in the US living with dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease) and projections that the number will increase as the population ages, you’ll likely have more than a few ways to help someone, who has trouble finding meaning in the world.

A program called Dementia Friends, offered this month and summer in person and via Zoom by Area Agency on Aging 1-B, aims to raise awareness, challenge stigma, sensitize participants and provide practical action.

The hour-long session can “help them take that extra step to actually help someone,” says Andrea Lang, MSIG, program manager for AAA 1-B social and care services.

“It’s a good starting point for a dementia care worker and their journey,” she says. “Also, these sessions are good for community organizations and businesses like restaurants and healthcare professionals who work directly with the public every day.”

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Community organizations interested in having employees participate in Dementia Friends training are welcome, Lang says.

Dementia Friends has a pay-it-forward element: after you complete the course, you become a Dementia Friend. That means you have the tools to identify someone who may have dementia and needs some kind support. It also means you can take further training to become a Dementia Champion, which entitles you to train new Dementia Friends.

Communities can choose to become “dementia-friendly communities.” Saline is Michigan’s only one so far, and the voluntary designation is intended to let residents and visitors know that Saline “respects and welcomes people with dementia and their caregivers as valued participants in our community life,” according to its website.

Dementia Friends was founded in 2009 by the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK. Since then, it has spread worldwide and was introduced in the US in 2017. There are now more than 20 million Dementia Friends in 56 countries, including over 130,000 in the United States.

To learn more about the training, visit

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