Dementia Friends Pennsylvania Reaches 10,000 Friends Statewide

On October 28, 2022, Dementia Friends Pennsylvania hit a historic landmark by announcing 10,000 Dementia Friends statewide.

A Dementia Friend attends a one-hour information session, learns about what it is like to live with dementia by gaining an understanding of the five key messages around dementia. Participants then turn their understanding into a practical action – big or small – to support-persons living with dementia in their community.

In May of 2018, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) became the state administrator for the Dementia Friends Pennsylvania initiative, seeking to educate communities across the commonwealth about dementia, break down stigma surrounding dementia, and encourage individuals to implement practical changes to best support people living with dementia.

"The goal is one friend at a time to really impact the way people talk about dementia," said Anneliese Perry, MS, JHF program manager, aging initiatives. "Looking back to where we started four years ago, it is gratifying to see something that you're passionate about start so small and grow into something beyond our expectation. To know that it is making a difference for others is what keeps us going and growing."

In the first nationally representative study of cognitive impairment prevalence in more than 20 years, Columbia University researchers have found almost 10% of U.S. adults ages 65 and older have dementia, while another 22% have mild cognitive impairment.

Estimates are the number of people living with dementia will triple by 2050.

To meet this need, the program deploys a train-the-trainer model. Dementia Friends Champion Volunteers are equipped to offer in-person Dementia Friends Information Sessions to community members, further expanding the programs reach.

"It's the 'wow factor' that sits on their faces as you present these details, facts and stories. The feedback from the friends in the sessions, the tears of joy and sadness. They can't wait to refer their friends to you to host a session for them – it's like a domino effect," said Dementia Friends Champion Rachal Estle, MSW, LSW Greene County Supervisor Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging. "Overall, it is bringing awareness to those never touched by the disease while at the same time touching the hearts of those who have experienced it in some way, shape or form.

Perry and Stacie Bonenberger, MOT, OTR/L, JHF program manager, aging initiatives, are passionate about developing programming that is inclusive of all people living with dementia.

"We want everyone in Pennsylvania to be a Dementia Friend, but we've changed our goals to make Dementia Friends accessible to everyone in Pennsylvania by creating curriculum for youth and continuing to translate the program into different languages," Bonenberger said.

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