By Joyce Coronel
Tempe is home to the largest university in America, but it’s also home to 13,660 senior citizens. About 1,500 of them are living with dementia.
Dementia is a brain condition that causes problems with thinking and memory. Experts say that about 60 to 80 percent of people with dementia have Alzheimer’s.
Tony Cani, aide to Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell, spoke to Wrangler News about an initiative to make the city more dementia friendly.
It’s part of a worldwide movement that seeks to help communities understand and assist those living with dementia.
“The mayor’s mother was diagnosed with dementia a couple of years ago,” Cani said.
“He started to learn a lot more about this issue and discovered there was a movement in cities abroad to help prepare businesses, non-profits and police on how to deal with it.”
London, England, became a dementia-friendly city in 2013, and Tempe will be Arizona’s first dementia friendly community.
According to Alzheimers.net, 5.3 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and that number will continue to grow as the population ages. Last summer, Tempe was selected to test a pilot program from the White House Conference on Aging. Other cities involved in the project, part of Dementia Friendly America, include Denver and Knoxville.
Basically, it’s a four-step process that begins with a kick-off in which the community gathers and hears from key leaders and citizens who discuss the issue.
In Tempe, the initial event was set as part of a public summit March 19, 10 a.m. to noon at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway.
The second phase of the process involves gathering information and engaging the community to assess strengths and gaps. “We will be doing that in person and over the Internet, doing surveys and analysis of different sectors,” Cani said. “We’ll be asking, ‘How much do you know about the 10 signs of dementia?’”
After that, the program involves analyzing the data and creating goals.
“It’s not just the city of Tempe,” Cani said. They’ll be looking to organizations like the Tempe Chamber of Commerce to train local businesses. “It’s an organization, community-driven process that gets you there.”
For many people who are living with dementia, ordinary activities can become difficult to navigate. “For example, when they are in a store, they might start pocketing things,” Cani said.
“You train people to know the warning signs and if you know them, you will be able to identify the person who is in need.”
Tempe is partnering with Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in the effort, Cani said. “Early screening makes a big difference; it helps families prepare.”
Info: Tony Cani, 480-350-8959; or dementiaFriendlyTempe.org.