Dementia-Friendly Businesses

Watertown, Wisconsin

On a journey to become one of the first dementia-aware communities in the United States, Watertown sets its focus on business.

Identifying the Issue:
As the baby boomer generation ages, the symptoms associated with dementia will become increasingly recognizable in society. Commonly associated with memory loss, dementia is a general term to describe a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. While not every older person should expect to develop dementia, age is a considerable risk factor. Today, one in nine Americans over 65 has Alzheimer’s (the most common form of dementia) and by age 85 that number increases to one in three people. In order to help the memory-impaired continue living a normal life as long as possible, in an environment where they are safe and feel that they belong, Watertown set out to become one of the first dementia-friendly communities in the United States.

Applying a Replicable Model:
The Alzheimer’s Society, based in London, England, established a Dementia-Friendly Communities program in 2012. The program publicly recognizes communities where people with dementia are included, feel confident, and know they can contribute and participate in activities that are meaningful to them. Based on this model, the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition (WDAC) was created to help Watertown become the first dementia-aware and dementia-friendly community in the United States, where memory-impaired people continue living and feel like they belong.

Relying on businesses and people with dementia to build an alliance, the coalition’s goal is to have 90% or more of Watertown businesses committed to be dementia friendly by the year 2016. The WDAC educates and trains businesses on what they can do to enable customers with dementia to remain a vital part of the community. Funding and in-kind donations for the program are generously provided by the Lutheran Home Association.

Introducing Businesses to Dementia-Friendly Communities:
To kick-off the coalition, Heritage Homes, a community run by the Lutheran Home Association, hosted free events and invited residents and businesses to attend. Participants learned about the needs of someone living with dementia and how businesses can contribute to a “dementia-friendly” community. The WDAC also discussed how they were prepared to help businesses and outlined a few requests:

  • Sign a pledge committing the business to learning more about how to help employees become more dementia aware.
  • Assess their business environment to see how it can be made more dementia friendly and easier to navigate for a person with memory loss.
  • Join the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition to let people know that the business supports those with dementia and the persons who support them.
  • Display “The Purple Angel” in the business windows to let people know that the business is dementia aware and dementia friendly.
  • Encourage employees to attend training sessions and read informational material by the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition.
The Path to Dementia-Friendly Recognition:
Since the kick-off in October 2013, the WDAC has trained six businesses, including 25 employees at the State Bank of Reeseville who have learned how to recognize and serve people with dementia and their caregivers. Another participating business, Hessed’s Connection Café and Laundry, has become the meeting place for “Memory Café,” a monthly group for people with dementia and their caregivers. The WDAC has also created resources for those living with dementia, including pocket-sized cards that people with memory loss can present to local businesses. The cards read, “Thank you for your patience. I am memory impaired and may require a few extra moments. Your cooperation and understanding is much appreciated.”

As time goes on, the WDAC’s alliance continues to grow. WDAC task forces focus on areas like education, media, and vision, and members continue to build relationships with caregivers, people living with dementia, advocates, and county-wide coalitions. The WDAC is participating in events like Wellness Expos and trainings on dementia, developing training videos to broadcast on public access television, and also exploring an opportunity to work with students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Nursing.

Lessons Learned:
  • Identify your key stakeholders and get them on board: Early in the process, the WDAC sought critical political support and secured the commitment of Watertown’s mayor. They also identified a handful of key business players that were passionate about the coalition’s mission. These businesses helped to reach out and recruit additional businesses into the initiative.
  • Make it easy for people to find you: From the beginning, the WDAC reached out to local press and established an online presence, both on Facebook and through a dedicated webpage. An established presence not only helps to advertise to the population you hope to serve or involve, it is also important for building coalitions with like-minded initiatives or individuals. Following exposure from local media, initiatives unknown to the WDAC began to reach out and share their valuable experience and insight.
Jan Zimmerman
Heritage Homes, Assisted Living

USAging Fact: Learn about your peers’ work—and how it can fit into your agency’s goals! The AIA Awards recognizes successful and innovative programs that USAging members have developed to serve older adults. Get inspiration from our 2023 winners!