Written by Susan McFadden, Ph.D.

It has been a year since I submitted the final manuscript for my book Dementia-Friendly Communities: Why We Need Them and How We Can Create Them. And what a year it has been. I am writing this blog post in mid-November, after a momentous Presidential election in the United States and continuing high rates of coronavirus infections and deaths worldwide.

Recently, my husband and I distributed gift bags to people in our dementia chorus. Standing six feet from front doors, wearing masks, we heard tales of dementia decline due to the social isolation forced by the pandemic. We also heard how that stress is compounded by the US Presidential election uncertainty and the daily news about the spread of COVID-19.

This is an example of what I used to teach my gerontology students about period effects. I talked about how the historical moment might affect research. For example, we might do a study of care partners’ psychological well being by administering a standard well-being scale. However, if we don’t pay attention to what is going on in the world experienced by our participants, we may attribute their distress solely to coping with their loved one’s dementia symptoms without taking into account their anxiety about the political situation in their country or the unchecked spread of a dangerous virus.

In a dementia-friendly community, we not only need to attend to the immediate needs and desires of those living with dementia, but also we should be aware of larger, macro issues that might be affecting them. I’m not saying we can fix political distress or a pandemic, but we can be sensitive to the many layers of stressors affecting people’s everyday lives.

These stressors also affect organizations bringing dementia-friendly awareness to their communities. Nonprofits that used to have in-person fund-raising events have had to pivot to online programs because of the pandemic. Not knowing how much longer we will need to be physically distanced makes it hard to plan programs for the coming year.

Nevertheless, I am starting to see many creative responses to the social isolation forced on all of us by the spreading coronavirus. Where once we might have had a meeting in person involving only local people, now we can have virtual meetings that can connect people with similar interests and concerns regardless of geographic location. For example, the Percolator Memory Café Network sponsored by Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Boston recently held a Zoomed meeting that included people in Brazil (with a Portuguese translator) telling us about how they are doing virtual memory cafés. In my next blog posts, I will offer information about the creative work being done to strengthen connections with people living with dementia and their care partners in this time of pandemic. I will also give brief reviews of research on dementia-friendly communities that has emerged in the year since I sent my book manuscript to Jessica Kingsley Publishers. It has been quite a year indeed!

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