Making businesses ‘dementia friendly’ |

Making businesses ‘dementia friendly’

Alzheimer’s Friendly Business education program

Home Instead Senior Care


As of this year, an estimated 5.3 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s disease, reports the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association.

An estimated 5.1 million are 65 and older and nearly two-thirds are women. Additionally, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will grow each year as the U.S. population grows older.

In the next 10 years, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s is estimated to reach 7.1 million — a 40 percent increase from this year. By 2050, the number may nearly triple.

What these staggering statistics mean for the general population is that the average person is increasingly likely to come in contact with individuals who have Alzheimer’s and other dementias, said Blair Sapeta, director of business development for Home Instead Senior Care, which provides home and facility-based care for seniors in Nevada, Placer and El Dorado counties.

As a result, it’s important for the general populace to become better educated when it comes to dementia and learn how to handle personal interactions with compassion.

“We’ve found that a lot of families feel increasingly isolated when a relative has dementia,” said Sapeta. “They’re less likely to go out because they’re afraid people won’t understand the behavior or know how to respond.”

In a survey conducted by Home Instead in April 2015, 74 percent of Alzheimer’s caregivers (most likely family members) report they and their loved one have become more isolated. Roughly 87 percent leave the house less frequently and 85 percent report a reduced quality of life.

Common fears for caregivers are that businesses can be chaotic and confusing for a person with dementia. They may become anxious or disruptive, or get lost.

Waiters, bank tellers or store clerks may not understand when a person loses their fine motor skills, can’t remember which is their right hand, or follow seemingly simple directions.

In an effort to make Nevada County more “Alzheimer’s-friendly,” Home Instead is reaching out to local restaurants, banks, pharmacies and grocery stores to offer Alzheimer’s Friendly Business education, a free 30-minute program designed to train employees to identify common behaviors associated with dementia.

The training offers simple strategies and tips to help make life easier for those with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

In the training, employees learn about the enormous difficulties faced by a person with dementia. Common symptoms can include becoming angry or anxious, repeating words, experiencing hallucinations, exhibiting sexually inappropriate behavior, stealing or becoming paranoid.

Employees are given tools and tips in remaining calm, not taking things personally, being understanding, not arguing and avoiding embarrassing a person struggling with dementia.

Other examples include approaching a person slowly from the front, using a comforting tone of voice, giving simple choices, limiting distractions during communication and respecting their feelings. If a customer becomes agitated, employees are taught how to calmly change the mood or subject, apologize and empathize.

Over the course of the training, bank employees are given tips on how to deal with confused senior customers who wish to withdraw substantial or unrealistic amounts of money.

Drug store employees are encouraged to give medication directions slowly, using short words or phrases. Grocery clerks learn how to help disoriented — and often frightened — customers, a common scenario.

Restaurant staff are taught to simplify what can seem like overwhelming menu options.

The free Alzheimer’s Friendly Business education program helps caregivers better deal with the “mine field” of issues related to taking a person with dementia out in public.

This will give caregivers a more positive experience, making them more likely to get out and frequent local businesses. The free, 30-minute training can be taken online or from a Home Instead staff member who will travel to interested businesses and provided instruction.

“Recently I spoke with a local woman who emphasized the importance of gender-neutral restrooms,” said Sapeta. “She couldn’t send her husband to the bathroom alone because he might get confused. This is an example of why so many caregivers are reluctant to go out at all. This training could make a big difference for employees on the frontlines.

“To not educate ourselves about dementia is a grave disservice to the community, especially for those in the service industry. Trainings are easy to understand and available at a business owner’s convenience. Given the demographics in Nevada County, this could make a big difference. Alzheimer’s and dementia are all around us.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at

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