Dementia Friendly America in the Austin Community of Chicago

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The Austin neighborhood exists on the West Side of Chicago. At large, Austin includes smaller neighborhoods such as Galewood, The Island, and North and South Austin. Geographically and populously, Austin is vast including a significant number of older adults, defined as people who are age 65 years and up. Demographics reveal that older adults account for more than 12% of the total Austin population. However, Austin stands out since it has few locations where older adults and persons living with dementia (PLWD) can seek education, dementia-friendly healthcare and related services, and housing including assisted living. It is critical that Austin considers becoming a dementia friendly community – a place where older adults, PLWD, and their loved ones can thrive and go about their everyday activities without struggle, just like anyone else. Becoming a dementia friendly community will not be easy and will not happen overnight but it will be worth it. As 86.1% of individuals living in Austin are African American, and evidence suggests that African Americans are at higher risk than Whites of developing Alzheimer’s disease – a type of dementia, it is important that Austin has the resources and support from within and outside to foster a dementia friendly environment.

One service focused on older adults is the Senior Satellite Center (SSC), instated by the City of Chicago. With 13 locations spanned across Chicago, including one in Austin, the SSC serves “as community focal points that connect seniors to social, recreational, economic, and educational resources that enhance the quality of their lives.” This includes, but is not limited to: fitness and wellness, trips and outings, hot lunches, and a variety of classes including computer training ones. The SSC may serve as the backbone to shifting a regular community into a dementia friendly one. The Austin SSC can be found at 5071 W. Congress Parkway 60644.

Austin may also expand its services focused on older adults and PLWD through a grassroots movement called Dementia Friendly America, an organization which brings awareness and community-based resources about dementia and aging to locations across the United States. The ultimate goal of Dementia Friendly America is to foster communities where older adults, PLWD, and their families and loved ones can have a good quality of life. Dementia Friendly America offers suggestions and strategies as to how a community can center its existing resources – including organizations, businesses, leaders, and residents – toward becoming and sustaining dementia friendly practices to ease the load for older adults, PLWD, and their families and loved ones. For example, Dementia Friendly America provides information on how banks may offer transactions that are easier to complete by PLWD. Additionally, Dementia Friendly America outlines ways that communities may leverage public transportation where PLWD can use Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) methods more easily with the assistance of trained Dementia Friends staff members.

Businesses and their employees within any community – including Austin – can become Dementia Friends and Dementia Champions through completing trainings offered by Dementia Friendly America. Trainings may be completed via a website or in-person, depending on what is offered. Trainings assist people to become even more knowledgeable about dementia so that they can assist PLWD using evidence-based practices and compassion. Any person who is interested in becoming a Dementia Friend or Dementia Champion can seek information on the Dementia Friendly America website at https://www.dementiafriendsusa.org/.

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