United Way of West Central Connecticut and Bristol Health are resuming efforts to help make Bristol a “Dementia Friendly Community.” The “Lunch and Learn” webinar was held on Feb. 17, featuring “Dementia Champion” Lynn Litwinczyk, MS and Occupational Therapist from Bristol Health. The program is intended to help people become a “Dementia Friend” by giving them techniques for better understanding and communicating with people living with dementia.
The Dementia Friends program is 75 minutes and helps those who attend better able to understand what it’s like to live with the disease, and it gives people strategies for communicating with those who have dementia. The program is intended to make the community into “better stewards” should they encounter someone with dementia.
“You don’t want to yell at people with dementia or make them more nervous if they are lost and confused,” Litwinczyk said. “You also don’t want to pepper them with a lot of quick questions. This program will teach you ways to get them to give you the contact information of their caretaker. They might not initially want to give out the phone number since there is often a little paranoia associated with the illness. This program will teach you how to converse with them in a non-threatening manner.”
The Dementia Friends initiative also can offer programs for businesses, where “Dementia Champions” hold sessions tailored to their field. A “Dementia Friend” is someone who had completed the program. A “Dementia Champion” has undergone further training and is instructed on how to teach the program to others.
Litwinczyk said that the pandemic had put the Dementia Friends program on the “back burner” right when it was beginning to build momentum. Previously, classes were held in-person with a person living with dementia. She had also established a support group and a Memory Café for dementia patients. Now, she is adjusting the program to Zoom meetings and building momentum again.
“Memory Cafes were a social group that we started pre-pandemic,” she said. “Typically it was about getting a group of people with dementia and their care partners in the same room for a big social hour. It was purely a social group. But, we’ve had to switch gears to Zoom meetings, which has been very challenging as we’re dealing with a population that doesn’t have a lot of tech savviness.”
Litwinczyk said that the pandemic has “wreaked havoc” with dementia patients in general. “When I met with a dementia client I would establish a ‘brain healthy program’ which includes socialization and making sure that they are getting out with friends and family and feel like they have a purpose,” she said. “With the pandemic, this type of scenario is not possible. For many patients, their dementia is getting worse.” Litwinczyk said she hopes to be able to resume the Memory Café and other programs once COVID-19 restrictions are eased.
Making Bristol a Dementia Friendly Community is an objective that United Way of West Central Connecticut will strive toward in partnership with Bristol Health, Barnes Group Foundation, Bristol Senior Center, Central CT Chambers of Commerce, and the Sky Bight Foundation.
“We would love to see more people and businesses participate and Bristol become a Dementia Friendly Community," Litwinczyk said. The next session will be on Wednesday, June 23 as part of the Central CT Chambers Of Commerce "Wellness Wednesday" series.