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The strategic advantages of being a dementia-friendly healthcare system

March 10th, 2016

by Anthony Cirillo

The once in a decade (really, once every 10 years) White House Conference on Aging held in July had some highlights worth talking about--such as Uber playing a prominent role as it continues to expand UberASSIST, its senior transportation option. Transportation is a huge issue with seniors and very much a part of any discussion about creating dementia-friendly communities.

Which brings me to another initiative launched at the conference, Dementia Friendly America (DFA). According to the newly launched website, “The Dementia Friendly America initiative, a multi-sector, national collaborative, is on a mission to foster communities that are equipped to support people with dementia and their family and friend caregivers by becoming ‘dementia friendly.’”

Dementia friendly is definitely not something achieved in a silo. A compelling graphic on the DFA website lists the components to achieve a dementia-friendly community. Frankly, the United Kingdom equivalent is a little more robust. Consider the following from a white paper from the Alzheimer’s Society in the UK. Dementia friendly includes the following 10 priorities:

[More:]

  1. Involve people with dementia
  2. Challenge stigma and build understanding
  3. Provide accessible community activities
  4. Acknowledge potential
  5. Ensure an early diagnosis
  6. Offer practical support to enable engagement in community life
  7. Create community-based solutions
  8. Provide consistent and reliable travel options
  9. Encourage easy-to-navigate environments
  10. Promote respectful and responsive businesses and services

I’d like to suggest that dementia friendly should be a strategic priority for healthcare systems.

See, the experience is blind to the setting, and the settings are becoming blurred. Further consider that in an aging society, population health management doesn’t quite capture dementia, including Alzheimer’s. And to change the culture of aging care we have a long way to go, according to a post I wrote for EnagingPatients.org.

The Eliza Foundation has identified three major life stressors that if looked at closely, impact overall health. They are: caregiving, financial stress and relationship issues. Factors that can help people cope include spirituality, social support and exercise. Factors that can hinder success are lack of sleep, being sad or worried, and substance abuse. Now correlate those to the services you offer. One hospital actually takes seniors to church on Sunday, recognizing the importance of spirituality.

Your future success hinges on an understanding that societal health is more than just about population health--and that accountable care organization players are not just other hospitals, physicians and long-term care entities. Rather, employers, banks, supermarkets and other entities in the community all play a role when it comes to understanding dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Caring for family caregivers in the workplace and creating dementia-friendly communities are key issues that society has to address together. And this goes well beyond any issues identified in your community health needs assessment.

Aging is inevitable--and let’s face it--the people who tend to need health and human services the most are people 45 and older. That is your revenue base.

Take a look at what you are doing from the following perspectives:

Employee experience

Happy employees stay with the company, are more productive and motivated and create better experiences. Six in 10 family caregivers are employed while caregiving. Among them, 56 percent work full time, and on average, they work 34.7 hours a week. While people between the ages of 50 and 64 are the largest age group to serve as caregivers, millennials make up nearly a quarter of caregivers, and among those individuals ages 18 to 34, men are just as likely to offer care as women.

A key to better employee experience is and will be identifying, embracing and creating programs for family caregivers in the workforce. Have you thought about employee experience from this angle? How many family caregivers are working in your organization? Do you embrace them or stigmatize them? Do you know about the organization called REACT (Respect a Caregiver's Time)? Check it out.

Patient experience

If you buy into the fact that most of what has been acute and chronic healthcare provided in the hospital setting is really about caring for boomers and seniors, you realize that the Aging Experience is important to address and that further means becoming a Dementia Friendly Hospital.

Strategic marketing advantage

You probably are struggling with your branding and strategic marketing in a pretty vanilla healthcare landscape. Want to own something no one else does? Lead the charge in your community to become a dementia-friendly community.

Think about “dementia friendly” as a strategic priority. Doing so will have a positive trickle-down impact on the issues you are struggling with now (insert your laundry list here); will position you for where healthcare is moving; and will impact a huge societal issue at the same time.

Plus, grandma will thank you.

Anthony Cirillo, F.A.C.H.E., is president of the Aging Experience, which specializes in experience management and strategic marketing across the continuum of care. Anthony is a monthly contributor on The Charlotte Today program, the about.com expert in senior Ccare, an executive board member of CCAL and a member of the Dementia Action Alliance.

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