The Dementia Friendly Communities Coalition sponsored, in part, by the Saint Croix Valley Foundation is working to create places where people with dementia and their caregivers can live without feeling isolated. Meg Heaton is a volunteer with the DFCC. Like many families, Heaton’s been impacted by dementia—her mother developed age on-set dementia. She also had a colleague who died young after the onset of frontal temporal dementia—which can develop at any age. Her personal experiences have focused her on what communities can and should do to make life easier for people living with dementia.
“The idea is to get rid of the stigma of living with dementia,” Heaton says. “Dementia friendly cities are places where people with dementia are understood and supported … to allow people to stay in their homes as long as possible.”
In practical terms, the coalition educates members of the community and engages with civic leaders and faith leaders to create opportunities for interaction. One of the activities that the coalition has developed is a dementia friendly choir and a community sing-along event.
The Music by Heart event takes place on the second Sunday in June each year … this year it will be on June 14th. The Lifelong Singers choir, featured in the performance, is dementia friendly, but is made up of all kinds of people, and is possible because of the work of two other volunteers, Bobbi Pominville who is the director and accompanist Carol Dahle. The group performed on Veterans Day last year at the American Legion in New Richmond for about 50 area veterans.
The Saint Croix Valley Foundation gives administrative and financial support to the coalition. “We are collaborators with different organizations,” says SCV Foundation director Angie Pilgrim. “Our mission is to improve the quality of life for people in SCV region. DFC is one way we do that.”
While the support of the SCV Foundation is important, it’s volunteers that really keep organizations like the Dementia Friendly Communities Coalition alive. “We’re fortunate that our core group of volunteers, about a dozen women, are very committed,” Heaton says. “But the entire community has really supported our efforts.”
Nancy Abrahamson is a social worker who is a dementia care specialist for Saint Croix County, Wis. She is enthusiastic about all the community outreach work being done by the DFCC. By giving both people living with dementia and their caregivers social outlets, the coalition helps build communities where people with dementia are understood, respected and supported. And, music, Abrahamson believes, is one of the best ways to help a person living with dementia stay connected. “We hear music in the womb,” she says. “It’s one of the very first things we are aware of and one of the last things we lose connection to …”