Living with Dementia: “We Shall Overcome…”
I’m always struck by ageist remarks that bundle aging and living with dementia as sort of a package deal. It came up again recently in a discussion with a friend who argued that people living with dementia were victims of ageism. Hmmmm… perhaps… if the individual in question is indeed being marginalized due to his or her age alone.
Here’s the rub. Living with dementia is about changing abilities, not necessarily growing older. You can be a younger adult and still live with dementia. It’s true that, statistically speaking, a large number of people living with dementia are older people. But to compartmentalize the experience of dementia as an aging issue alone is a very bad habit on the part of society.
To really shift this paradigm, the world of aging services must clasp hands tightly with those who support the well-being of people who live with differing abilities. This meeting of the minds is crucial when it comes to creating well-informed, respectful, and supportive communities that integrate the needs and contributions of those living with dementia.
At a recent national summit hosted by the Dementia Action Alliance, Val Halamandaris, head of the National Association of Home Care and Hospice, described living with dementia as a civil rights issue. I could not agree more. The American Disabilities Act helped wake us up to the need for universal design, accommodation, and a serious shift in public awareness. We still have a ways to go there, folks, and even further, regarding the ability of those who live with dementia to be active, contributing members of their communities.
I am inspired by the efforts of some towns and cities to become dementia-friendly communities. These initiatives include comprehensive plans to create easy-to-navigate environments and accessible travel options; respectful and responsive businesses; opportunities for community engagement; and education designed to deconstruct stigma, build awareness, and highlight contribution potential. Through their actions, communities like these are saying, “Yes, we welcome the unique gifts that individuals living with dementia have to offer us. Yes, we believe that every person is vital to creating a rich and diverse community. Yes, we see you.”
Here’s to the power of possibility. Just say, “Yes.”