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Changing the way we look at dementia 

Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News on

Published in Health & Fitness

In November, six people with Alzheimer's disease and related types of cognitive impairment stood before an audience of 100 in North Haven, Conn.

One by one, they talked about what it was like to live with dementia in deeply personal terms.

Before the presentation, audience members were asked to write down five words they associated with dementia. Afterward, they were asked to do the same, this time reflecting on what they'd learned.

"Without exception, the words people used had changed -- from 'hopeless' to 'hope,' from 'depressed' to 'courageous,' from 'empty' to 'fulfilled,' " said Erica DeFrancesco, a clinical assistant professor of occupational therapy at Quinnipiac University who helped organize the event.

The session, followed by an hour-long discussion about dementia, is part of a new grass-roots movement in the U.S. aimed at educating people about Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, dispelling the painful stigma associated with these conditions and enhancing public understanding.

A centerpiece of that effort, known as "Dementia Friends," began just over a year ago under the auspices of Dementia Friendly America, an effort spearheaded by 35 organizations across the country.

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Currently, more than 13,200 people are registered as Dementia Friends in the U.S., and organizations in 14 states (Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wyoming) are hosting events to sign up more.

Globally, almost 14 million people in 33 countries are involved in the movement, which originated in Japan.

To become a Dementia Friend, most people attend an hour-long presentation focused on several themes:

Disease vs. typical aging. Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia are illnesses of the brain, not a natural consequence of aging.

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