“Taking my father out into the community really opened my eyes to the fact that more needed to be done on the community level,” says Toni Reinhart, whose father was recently diagnosed with dementia and who owns four Comfort Keepers in-home senior care franchises in Arlington, Western Fairfax and Loudoun County.
“I was almost ashamed of myself I have to tell you, because like I said, I’ve been a professional caregiver, but when people hire in-home … we’re in the home with someone with dementia,” Reinhart goes on. “I didn’t have much experience taking someone with dementia out into the community and seeing what that was like.”
Reinhart noticed that there were simple accommodations that area restaurants and doctor’s offices could make to create a more pleasant experience for dementia patients and their caregivers. So upon hearing from another Comfort Keepers franchise about Dementia Friendly America, a national initiative that aims to support those that suffer from and are affected by dementia, Reinhart did some research.
“I looked them up and I saw the map that they had on their website and there was nothing in Virginia—the entire state, nothing,” Reinhart explains. “We were like a blank place on the map.”
In March 2017, Rienhart picked up the phone, called Dementia Friendly America and was connected with two Richmond women, one who worked with LeadingAge Virginia and another from the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS). Reinhart then proposed that she create a Dementia Friendly Herndon initiative that could act as a pilot for other Dementia Friendly communities in the state.
Reinhart assembled an action team that underwent training in December and recently presented information on how to identify and talk to individuals with dementia to the Herndon Police Department.
“We gave them tips on how to communicate, how to recognize that this might be dementia and some communication tips to really calm the situation down,” Reinhart explains. “And then we told them what the resources are in our community, like the Herndon Village Network for rides.”
Rienhart and her team are also working with faith-based organizations in the area and soon hope to work with doctors offices, then restaurants. But any organization interested in learning how they can do their part can sign up for a free information session online.
“It’s just human nature when someone is sitting beside you and all of sudden is maybe being disruptive in service or they’re in choir practice and they’re dropping their music and they can’t remember what they’re doing, it’s human nature for us to turn away because we don’t understand why the person is being disruptive,” Reinhart points out. “So we need to educate people and say ‘Here’s whats going on and here’s how you can handle it to make them feel welcome’ rather than follow our natural instinct and look the other way.”
Reinhart recommends that people watch this video, set in the United Kingdom, which shows what life is like from the perspective of someone with dementia.
“It really shows you … how those few extra seconds standing there, engaging with them and saying ‘How can I help?’ can make a big, big difference in their life,” Reinhart says. “I own a home care company, so my belief is that people are happier at home. And in order for people to stay happier at home, they have to feel part of their community.”