River Forest aims for dementia-friendly designation

The village would be the second in the state to earn recognition

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By Nona Tepper

River Forest is on its way to becoming the second dementia-friendly community in the state, a designation that acknowledges the village's coordinated work in supporting those who suffer from dementia as well as their caregivers. Evanston recently became the first village to earn the recognition.  

"I think people in River Forest, Oak Park, wherever you're at, we're a caring community," said Village President Cathy Adduci. "People want to help, they just don't know how. I think if we spell out how they can help, it'll go a long way." 

Nearly 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer's Disease, the most common form of dementia, and a progressive disease, that causes problems with memory, thinking and behavior, according to the Alzheimer's Association advocacy group. By 2050, that number is projected to rise to nearly 14 million. As the number of people suffering from dementia rises nationally, River Forest is taking steps toward supporting its local community, as well as their caregivers. 

About a year ago, Helen Kwan, a healthcare and government relations consultant at Rush University Medical Center and a River Forest resident, reached out to the village, asking if there would be interest in reaching for a dementia-friendly designation. Adduci said yes, although she wasn't quite sure what that meant. 

She met with Raj C. Shah, an associate professor of family medicine at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center, and learned more about the steps necessary to be recognized as dementia-friendly. Meanwhile, River Forest's police and fire departments all received training on recognizing the signs of someone suffering from dementia. The village also now offers free, mental health awareness wristbands with identification numbers on them for residents.  

On Sept. 7, River Forest's first step toward a dementia-friendly designation occurred at an event titled "Dementia Friendly America: A Forum on Making River Forest a Dementia-Friendly Community" at Concordia University, where speakers from Evanston, the Dementia Friendly Illinois nonprofit, Rush and more came together to discuss how the village should create a dementia-friendly action plan. Adduci said the action plan will address how to bring together such entities as the River Forest Township, village government, Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation, Thrive Counseling Center and more to collaborate and support those with dementia. 

"One of the issues that was brought up is transportation. How can we support someone who suffers from dementia and their caregiver. Is there a way we can transport them to the library for two hours and give the caregiver a break?" Adduci said. "Whether you're the child caring for your parent or a professional caregiver, it's tough when you're with a person who suffers from dementia for 24 hours." 

Other issues discussed included teaching children about dementia and how to support those suffering, ways to publicly acknowledge caregivers and more. Adduci said she believes that a dementia-friendly designation for River Forest is not "years out." 

"It's really exciting and something that we're all going to strive for," she said. 

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com 

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