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Watertown aims to become dementia-friendly city

6:16 PM, Oct. 20, 2013  |  Comments
The city of Watertown in southeastern Wisconsin city is aiming to become a dementia-friendly community.
The city of Watertown in southeastern Wisconsin city is aiming to become a dementia-friendly community.
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A southeastern Wisconsin city is aiming to become a dementia-friendly community.

The effort for Watertown is being initiated by Jan Zimmerman, a nurse and administrator of a local assisted living center, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

She wants Watertown, a city of about 24,000 people 40 miles east of Madison, to be a community where residents are educated about dementia, business owners are trained to assist customers with memory loss, and people with dementia remain independent for as long as possible.

The designation doesn't have a precise definition, said Lori La Bey, executive director of Alzheimer's Speaks, an advocacy group in St. Paul, Minn. But she said it typically refers to a community that takes deliberate, coordinated and ongoing action to enable people with memory loss to feel safe in a community.

That means everything from easy access to local facilities such as banks and shops to ensuring that social networks can be maintained. The concept has taken off in the United Kingdom, she said.

"This is massive, absolutely massive," La Bey said. "Watertown, to our knowledge, is going to be the first dementia-friendly community in the U.S."

About 40 community members attended a meeting Tuesday to hear about the initiative. Zimmerman hopes it will lead to a formal coalition that meets regularly and puts forth detailed proposals. The first coalition meeting is Nov. 14.

At the meeting, attendees could pick up pocket-sized cards intended to be carried by people with memory loss and presented at retail establishments. 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."

The cards are a subtle way people can signal their situation without having to announce it publicly, Zimmerman said. Also, businesses are being offered free, on-site training for their employees, and those that complete training can display a purple angel in their window.

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