The Media School

Local dementia-friendly services involve entire community in patient care

April 19th, 2018 by
Photograph by Christine Stephenson

Amanda Mosier is the Community Health Coordinator for the IU Health Alzheimer's Resource Service and a founder of Dementia Friendly Bloomington. The organization offers services from employee training to caregiver support groups.

Bloomington resident Wendy Rubin has an arsenal of fond memories with her husband, Dick, who was one of about 50 million worldwide with dementia. Yet one particular moment stands out in her mind: The day she wrote his obituary.

In late September 2013, a nurse at the facility called her in around 6 p.m. to say goodbye. A small CD player laid next to his bedside, so Wendy inserted a Diana Krall album and listened to the throaty voice waft through the room as she wrote.

“There was something really peaceful about it,” she said. “I think the music helped him.”

Last year, a group of Bloomington residents founded Dementia Friendly Bloomington, an organization that allows caregivers like Rubin and their loved ones with dementia to receive the support they need. It provides services like training local employees to interact with customers with dementia and pairing high schoolers to work with residents in assisted living facilities.

Dementia is a disorder characterized by memory loss, change in personality and difficulty communicating, which is often caused by diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It is so prevalent that someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds, according to Alzheimer’s Disease International.

Amanda Mosier, community health coordinator for the IU Health Alzheimer’s Resource Service and a founder of Dementia Friendly Bloomington, has spent the past 17 years in dementia care.

“If you’re working with the elderly, you’re going to see about 90 percent of your patients with dementia,” she said. “You’re going to come across dementia no matter what.”

While symptoms can vary from patient to patient, Mosier said most healthcare providers agree that socialization is a vital factor in managing the disease.

Photograph by Christine Stephenson

More than 20 businesses in Bloomington, from the Monroe County Public Library to the Bloomington Thrift Store, display this logo in their front windows. This indicates that at least 50 percent of the employees have been trained to interact with clients who have dementia.

“Sitting around is not what they want to be doing,” said Heather Kinderthain, community relations coordinator at Jill’s House, an assisted living community at 751 East Tamarack Trail. “It’s like when you talk to people living with dementia, they say, ‘I want to be normal.’”

One of the most effective ways to feel normal and maintain cognitive abilities is to have one-on-one conversations with others, Kinderthain said. Through a recent partnership with the Hoosier Hills Career Center, high school students interested in becoming Certified Nursing Assistants are paired with dementia patients at places like Jill’s House.

Here, the two read books, play simple games and perform daily tasks together.

Mosier said these intergenerational connections prepare the students for careers in healthcare. In addition, they provide meaningful interactions to the residents, who require more socialization than others.

“We’re looking for those strong individuals who are really going to commit to this,” she said. “I feel that there aren’t enough employees in the healthcare field that understand dementia. So many get burnt out because they haven’t been properly trained.”

Kinderthain said she thinks all the training leads back to basic human decency.

“It’s what you learn in school as a kid,” she said. “Oh, you mean we’re going to listen to people? We’re going to treat people like people? There are places that do that?”

“Sitting around is not what they want to be doing. It’s like when you talk to people living with dementia, they say, ‘I want to be normal.'” – Heather Kinderthain, community relations coordinator, Jill’s House

Simple interactions like these are especially critical to residents who are unable to leave their homes, but many with milder symptoms can still travel, Kinderthain said.

Throughout Bloomington, a human-shaped purple logo clings to the windows of more than 20 businesses, from the Bloomington Thrift Shop to the Monroe County Public Library.

This logo indicates that at least 50 percent of employees have been trained to interact with clients who have dementia. Sometimes this means allowing more time for customers to answer questions. Other times, it means redesigning buildings to be easily navigable.

For example, the public library used to have stepping stools for tough-to-reach shelves. But because the peripheral vision of dementia patients is often impaired, the stools were a tripping hazard, Mosier said.

“There are little things that always surprise us that we didn’t think would be a big issue,” she said.

Outside of the training services, Dementia Friendly Bloomington connects caregivers and organizes community events to raise money. For Rubin, being involved means attending caregiver support groups and the annual Bloomington Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Although she had her children and friends for support throughout her husband’s decline, Rubin said she could not have handled the stress without the help of other community members, especially ones like Mosier and Kinderthain.

“They are life changers,” she said, turning her husband’s wedding band around her middle finger. “I can’t even imagine what it’s like to go through something like this alone.”