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Dementia Friends

May 31, 2023

University of Idaho Extension educators have been dispelling widely held myths about dementia and building patience and empathy toward people living with the common neurocognitive disorder through an ongoing pilot program.

UI Extension facilitates Dementia Friends sessions that each span about 90-minutes, offered both in-person and online, in partnership with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias Department (IDHW-ADRD). After completing a session, offered at no charge to the public, each participant receives a certificate of completion.

The Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias program, housed within the IDHW Division of Public Health, holds the license to offer the program in Idaho and awarded UI Extension a $21,000 grant in February to launch the state’s Dementia Friends pilot. The pilot program, aimed at improving the lives of those who live with dementia by helping community members understand what dementia is and how it affects people, will wrap up in mid-June.

“A Dementia Friend is someone who after learning this information, they turn that understanding into action,” said Tasha Howard, a UI Extension educator based in Canyon County who is certified to teach Dementia Friends. “You set an action plan for yourself of how to be a Dementia Friend within your community, family and workplace.”

Dementia Friends was first started by the Alzheimer’s Society in the United Kingdom. Idaho has a separate Dementia Friends program for Native American tribes.

IDHW-ADRD trained the UI Extension trainers — Tasha Howard and Bridget Morrisroe-Aman in the southern district, Kathee Tifft and Kirstin Jensen in the northern district and Laura Sant and Leslee Blanch in the eastern district. They’ll remain certified indefinitely to host Dementia Friends sessions, and there are plans for IDHW-ADRD to train additional dementia champions to facilitate the program.

IDHW-ADRD and UI Extension plan to meet in late June to evaluate their pilot, and IDHW-ADRD hopes to find additional funds to continue it.

The information session includes an informational video and content explaining the differences between aging and dementia, as well as tips for communicating effectively with someone living with dementia. Participants learn that dementia is the general term for cognitive and memory loss severe enough to interfere with daily life, and Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia.

“The information shared in a session is based on research. Part of Extension’s mission is to bring research and education into the community, and I think it fits perfectly with that,” Howard said.

Alzheimer’s is on the rise in Idaho, based largely on an increase in senior citizens moving into the state. The state is expected to have 33,000 people living with dementia by 2025, which would represent an increase of more than 22% from 2020, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Furthermore, the association found more than 65,000 unpaid caregivers aided Idaho residents living with Alzheimer’s in 2022.

Thus far, the Dementia Friends sessions have been popular among people living with a family member who has dementia, as well as those who are aging and wish to educate themselves on the early signs of dementia.

“There’s a lot of misinformation about dementia,” Howard said. "A lot of people think you can’t live a good quality of life if you have a dementia diagnosis, and a lot of people think somebody has dementia when they’re just getting older.”

As Howard learned through the program, it’s not unusual for a person to forget the reason for walking into a room, but it could be a sign of dementia if the person can’t recall where they are when they enter that room.

Based on her training, Howard, who has a grandparent with dementia, has become more patient and empathetic toward people who process facts slower than herself. Another point of emphasis taught in the program is to phrase words in a positive manner when dealing with those who have dementia. For example, tell them, “Let’s go here,” rather than, “Don’t go there.”

“The information we provide in a session, I’ve seen it really resonates emotionally,” Howard said. “In program evaluations, a lot of people are saying, ‘I never thought about it that way.’ They’re learning something new and they’re able to take that and put it into their life.”

Published in Catching Up with CALS

"A Dementia Friend is someone who after learning this information, they turn that understanding into action," said Tasha Howard, a UI Extension educator based in Canyon County who is certified to teach Dementia Friends.

About the University of Idaho

The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 11,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at uidaho.edu.


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