It Takes A Village

Dementia (Alzheimer’s), the leading global health care problem today, is a profound personal problem for many.  It is also a social and community problem.  Up to now those concerned with this health care issue have focused on its personal nature—both in defining the problem and the solutions.  The result has been funding for caregiver support groups, individual respite programs, and caregiver education among others.  Overlooked have been both the impact on communities and a concerted effort to engage community resources in the solution.

The I’m Still Here Foundation’s program called It Takes a Village embraces community as a powerful way to help individuals personally facing Alzheimer’s and dementia—both care partners and persons on the dementia journey. Through the It Takes a Village program, fear of dementia and related stigma are reduced.

Dr. Lisa Wong and son perform, It Takes a Village, I'm Still Here Foundation

Two major evidence-based research events point to the importance of community-based solutions to the dementia (Alzheimer’s) pandemic: 

  • First, pharmaceutical research—from genetics, to neuroscience, from diagnostic principles to clinical medication trials—is making only slow progress. The most hopeful present predictions are that it might well take two decades or more to arrive at any major pharmaceutical treatments and even then the greatest likelihood is to eventually be able to slow down the progress of the condition—meaning many more people living with dementia than today.
  • Second, clinical trials of nonpharmacological interventions are increasingly being funded, with exercise, mental engagement, music, improvisational drama, reading clubs, and environmental design all showing significant effects.  These include improved quality of life, reduced depression, improved engagement, and even in some situations slowing down of cognitive symptoms.

The It Takes a Village program responds to this emerging social and medical picture.  The logic behind It Takes a Village is shockingly simple.  Because mental and physical engagement improve the quality of life of people with dementia, their partners, and family members, maximizing engaging events for them will improve their lives.  While nursing homes, assisted living settings, and families at home try to do this with “entertainers” who come into the institutions and occasional “trips out”—such interventions tend to be isolated events separated by long periods of boredom, often in front of a TV.

Every community offers a rich variety of “engagement” opportunities often underused by the general public.  How many of our museums are full of visitors weekdays at 10:00AM?  How many of our symphony orchestras perform to sold-out audiences—with every seat filled?  Every community cultural institution has excess capacity which, with carefully designed dementia-friendly programs, can easily serve a community’s dementia and dementia-caregiving citizens—at minimum cost.

Health economics shows that such a community-based program pays for itself in reduced nursing home placement, less caregiver burnout, better caregiver health and less depression, among other public health outcomes.

Copyright 2016, I'm Still Here Foundation