Walking around the neighborhood and patronizing stores and restaurants -- pleasant everyday activities for many seniors -- can become frustrating and confusing for those with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia. As a result, many stay at home more often, as do their caregivers, leading to feelings of isolation and loss of community.
To ease the anxiety and frustration of customers with dementia, and to help people working in local businesses understand their special needs, some advocacy groups have begun training programs to help make companies and communities more dementia-friendly.
Jennifer Harrison, a pharmacist in Beavercreek, Ohio, told CBS Dayton affiliate WHIO that when employees took an Alzheimer's-friendly certification program from Home Instead Senior Care, it helped them understand the unique needs of those customers better.
"It's something we face all day long and we don't even realize that's what's going on on the other side of the counter," Harrison said. Now that she and her colleagues have learned to look for signs of dementia, she said, "being aware that there might be more to the story" helps the staff "go above and beyond to take care of them and their family."
The training program involves teaching employees to spot signs of dementia, such as confusion over where to find items, trouble finding words to explain, difficulty counting money, becoming easily irritated and being overwhelmed by too many choices.
The program provides tools for employees to help in those situations, including speaking more slowly, being patient, offering fewer choices, helping find items on a list, or suggesting words if a person cannot find the right ones.
"Maybe you've got 15 types of pain reliever on your shelf," said Kelly Murphy-Plate, a client care coordinator at Home Instead Senior Care. "You want to say, 'Mr. Smith would you like the Tylenol? Would you like the ibuprofen?' To make things simple."
If a person is confused and can't remember why he or she entered the store, or their address or other details, offering to find out by using information from their ID card can also help.
In addition to these types of tips, some programs offer cards for caregivers to discretely pass to a store employee which states that their companion has dementia: "Alzheimer's ... is a brain disorder that makes communication difficult. Your patience and understanding is greatly appreciated," the cards say.
"To slip the hostess an identification card without impacting the dignity of the loved person you are with, I think that goes a long way to keeping everybody having a pleasant experience," said Murphy-Plate.