First Church is First Dementia Friendly Certified Faith Community! 

By June 20, 2019

On May 21, our FUMCFW Staff earned its Dementia. Friendly certification, making us the first faith community in Tarrant County to achieve this distinction.   What does it mean for a business to be certified as “Dementia Friendly”? Why is that important?

Gail Snider, Program Coordinator, Dementia Friendly Fort Worth, explains that this certification means that a business or organization has received awareness training and experiential education that will help them better respond to individuals living with dementia and their care partners, especially in crisis situations. “Above all, this certification for businesses will help people with dementia be better able to navigate their day-to-day tasks in the community,” she adds, “And for a church to become Dementia Friendly means families can continue coming to church with the comfort and confidence of knowing that these specific needs will be understood and addressed by the church staff.”

To earn this certification, Gail explains, our staff received “Understanding Alzheimer’s and Dementia” training through the Alzheimer’s Association during one of its staff meetings. Then each staff member completed Dementia Live, an exercise in which. Participants are asked to don thick cotton gloves, glasses with the field of vision narrowed to about the size of a half dollar, and headphones emitting the most gosh awful background noise one could imagine.

Sound like a sensory endurance course from hell? It is!  That is, of course, unless you have Alzheimer’s disease, then it’s just another day.

“We do all this to confuse the brain in order to simulate what it’s like to have Alzheimer’s disease,” Gail explains. “For someone who has dementia, the erosion of fine motor skills makes it feel like you’re wearing slippery gloves. It’s hard to manipulate small objects and very easy to drop things.  With Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia’s, as the brain dies (which is what it does gradually in this cruel disease process) your field of vision narrows to the point where you can only see what is directly in front of you. And the headphones simulate the extreme noise sensitivity and loss of comprehension you experience when you have Alzheimer’s or a related dementia disease.

Once garbed up, participants enter a room where objects and daily tasks are randomly scattered: shirts waiting to be buttoned, coats that go on hangers, pills to separate into a pill sorter, money to put in a coin purse, etc. Right before entering the room, the facilitator reads a list of instructions from behind your back, then places her hand on your shoulder and guides you into the room. You have no idea what she said because of the racket in your ears, so you stand there for a moment, confused as to what you’re supposed to do. If you’re lucky there are others already in the room, so you pick up on the idea that these are tasks to be accomplished and you choose one. But you’re not sure what the task actually is—you just see bits and pieces of what’s there. Maybe you move to another area of the room to find something where it is clearer what you are supposed to do. Or maybe you attempt what’s in front of you, and you settle in and do something—anything to look busy and like you’re participating. Finally—after what seems like hours, the time’s up signal tells you the exercise is over.

“For Dementia Live participants, this a 5-7-minute exercise,” Gail says. “For people with dementia, it’s an all-day-every-day experience.”

 Why is this training and certification important for businesses?

Dementia Friendly training for employees of a business or organization equips them to provide respectful and patient service, to be mindful when speaking to all ages, backgrounds, and cultures, to assist with physical challenges, and to handle dementia-related incidents.

Using the Dementia Live® experience as a tool for creating understanding and empathy, Dementia Friendly Fort Worth acquaints 11 different sectors of the community with education and training for understanding and supporting people with dementia as they go about their daily tasks — and the challenges they tend to face in doing them. “Even simple things like getting dressed, buttoning a shirt, getting medicine in and out of a pillbox, and dialing a phone — these are things that become much harder than we can ever begin to imagine when your brain is in the process of dying,” Gail adds.

Gail says that in certifying other kinds of businesses, DFFW generally tailors the tasks in the Dementia Live experience to things related to the business they’re certifying. When certifying a restaurant, for example, the tasks might be ordering a meal, getting in and out of a booth, finding one’s way to a restroom, using drinking glasses and silverware, etc.

“In a restaurant setting this simulation will not only help restaurant staff understand how difficult it is to be in a public restaurant with dementia,” she adds, “but also what the waitstaff and hostesses need to be aware of and understand in order to provide helpful assistance.”

Gail says that remarks often heard — and overheard — from those undergoing this training are almost always in some form of, “This is really helpful information,” and “I had no idea what it’s really like — how completely overwhelming everything is to deal with.”

“The Dementia Live experience really changes the empathy level, Gail explains. “It also changes a person’s desire to provide better help and better care for those with dementia — and to realize that these people really can’t do what they’re being asked or expected to do without help.”

At our First Church Training, Gail said the biggest surprises she encountered as a trainer were that there were many more people at the church affected in some way by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than she realized — and that even the few people who didn’t really think this training was for them realized its importance by the time they were finished. “The staggering statistics assure that if not now, this information will come in handy somewhere down the line for everyone.” Gail adds that almost everywhere they go to train businesses they discover that 98 percent of people in any given group knows someone — or are affected in some way — by dementia.

Although the challenge of making this training relatable to those who haven’t yet been touched by dementia does exist, it’s is relatively minor, Gail says. She adds that much more frequently is a very big emotional response by people who say, often through tears, “I so wish I had known what I know now when I was dealing with my (insert loved one) who had dementia.”

Gail says that one of the most interesting sessions she’s done was a group Dementia Live experience with a company that does personal loans by telephone. In a group of 30, two stood in front of their peers to do the experience. “At first, the audience was laughing at them. Struggles — they thought it was funny — and then, about halfway through the experience, the whole vibe of the room completely changed,” Gail relates.” Everyone got really quiet and introspective; they realized it wasn’t funny at all and that the struggle was real.”

This shift was really amazing, Gail says, comparing this experience to other “teambuilding” exercises a close-knit group of employees might do in a retreat or workshop. In these things—usually comprised of silly games and challenges—the point is to engage in embarrassing struggles, laugh together, build camaraderie through sharing a good laugh at one another’s expense. “So, this was really different for them,” Gail observes, “and I don’t think they realized it until halfway through when they understood that what they were seeing wasn’t just silliness, but the actual reality of the day-to-day struggle people with dementia face.

“I actually had people from the audience come up after the training wanting to do the Dementia Live experience themselves,” Gail says. “I have had family members of someone with Dementia in tears because they just realized that their loved ones really couldn’t help what they were doing. They had been so impatient and frustrated— and now they have an opportunity to care better.” Gail smiles. “It’s one of my favorite things I get to do because of how it opens peoples’ eyes like nothing else,” she adds.

To date, DFFW has certified 13 businesses of all types in our community — and FUMCFW leads the way for other faith communities as the first church staff to be certified. Their goal is to certify 75 Tarrant County businesses by the end of this year.  “We concentrate especially on businesses that I call ‘forward facing,’ which means they deal in person, directly with their customers or clients.” So far, the businesses certified include community centers, law offices, health care entities, and restaurants. “Families are caught off guard when their primary care physicians and other health care workers don’t understand or know how to deal with a person with dementia,” Gail observes. “This training will make all the difference in the world to those patients and families.”

If you or someone you know would like to get a Tarrant County business certified as Dementia Friendly, go to the website, age-friendly.org and review the criteria and benefits of this training. Then, simply download and complete the application or contact Gail Snider, who will schedule a meeting with you to explain the process, walk through the steps with you and then sign an agreement. This agreement, The Dementia Friendly Commitment, is a pledge to complete the training within one year from the signing date. “All of the tasks they need to complete are on the list we provide, Gail explains. “The ultimate goal following certification is to make it part of each employer’s onboarding training so that whenever they have turnover, they’re not back at square one.”

“We are so grateful for First Church’s leadership in making it possible to even launch the Dementia Friendly Fort Worth initiative,” Gail says. Although DFFW is a separate 501c3 nonprofit organization (operating with much the same structure as the First Street Methodist Mission and the Methodist Justice Ministry does) FUMCFW provides in-kind support of office space (Foundation Building, 3rd floor), utilities, and business office support.

The response of the congregation and the community to this initiative has also been phenomenal, Gail adds. With support including massive volunteering at the Teepa Snow event to regular donations to special gifts, community partnerships, to other collaborating agencies, DFFW’s momentum is soaring. New opportunities arise every day to extend this crucial training with new opportunities to partner with existing community services and agencies, as well as ideas for weaving this training into the formal education of nurses, health care workers, and others who interact with senior adults, thanks to the tireless work of Linda Abel, RN, who also. Serves as Executive Director of DFFW.  The Dementia Friendly Fort Worth website is www.dffw.org.

“It’s like a big puzzle and we’re discovering new pieces every day,” Gail exclaims. “How can we connect with this one or that one? Where do our missions intersect — and how can they interact?” And, now teaming up with a handful of other Tarrant County agencies through the United Way and Tarrant Agency on Aging who are seeking a Model for Alzheimer’s/Dementia Services focused on People Living Alone (MASPLA) grant, these opportunities will continue to build.

“Fort Worth is now being recognized for this work all over the nation,” Gail remarks, “and it was FUMCFW and our bequest from the Ostby Family that launched its Dementia Ministry that led the way!”

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