From The Westfield News | April 22, 2014
by Peter Francis
WESTFIELD – Beth Cardillo, executive director of Armbrook Village, an assisted living community on the city’s north side, is looking to make Westfield one of the first “dementia-friendly” communities on the East Coast.
“I read about a dementia-friendly community, Watertown, Wisconsin, in AARP magazine,” she said. “From there, I found information about a town in Minnesota and also in Yorkshire County, England.”
Cardillo said she has met with the Westfield City Council, the Office of Mayor Daniel M. Knapik, Diana McClean of the city’s Community Development Office, and Kate Phelon of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce to lay the groundwork for the city’s transformation to becoming dementia-friendly.
“We’ve been giving virtual dementia tours that are 10-15 minutes long which alter your senses (to feel like dementia symptoms),” she said, adding that the Westfield Fire and Police departments are scheduled to take them soon. “It’s a very impactful event, especially for people who will be coming into contact with people with dementia.”
Cardillo is looking to work with local merchants, banks, supermarkets, and other businesses in the city on how to handle a customer who may be suffering from some type of dementia.
“It’ll help them to better understand and learn how to diffuse potential situations,” she said. “If there’s a person in a bank who no longer understands their statement, doesn’t remember money being taken out… If people have more awareness and sensitivity, this will help people better understand of the situation.”
Studies have shown that by 2050, one in three people over the age of 80 will suffer from some sort of dementia, and Senior Living Residences, Armbrook Village’s parent company connected to Boston University’s Alzheimer’s Center, is hoping to find a cure for these diseases.
“They do a lot of research, and we put it into practice,” said Cardillo, whose facility has a memory care unit with over 20 residents. “I would love to see younger people become more knowledgeable (about these diseases), because everybody knows someone who is affected by them.”
The statistics surrounding dementia-related illnesses are truly alarming, and conditions like Alzheimer’s have reached “epidemic” levels, according to Cardillo.
“Every 67 seconds, a person in the U.S. gets it,” she said of the debilitating disease. “It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and in 2013, 15.5 million caregivers gave 7.7 billion hours of unpaid care valued at $220 billion.”
Cardillo said the initiative is still in it’s infancy, but that community leaders are already starting to get behind the idea.
“I’m hoping it’ll be welcomed with open arms. It’ll be a great service to the community,” she said, adding that businesses will soon be able to put up decals announcing that they are dementia-friendly. “The Chamber of Commerce will be publishing information in their newsletter to get the word out. We just want to give people the tools they need to have a better understanding of what these diseases are.”
The position Westfield may soon occupy as the first dementia-friendly city in Massachusetts is one of great importance to Cardillo.
“There are so many universities doing research here, that I’d like to think that Massachusetts is a forerunner against dementia,” she said. “Mayor Knapik has said that there 7,000 to 8,000 senior citizens in this city, and we need to do right by them.”