Orange County libraries partner with dementia-friendly nonprofit

The Orange County Public Library system has become one of more than 20 businesses or organizations in Orange County that are dementia-friendly partners. Partnering alongside nonprofit coalition Dementia Friendly Orange County means the Orange County libraries work to accommodate all patrons’ needs.

“It might be as simple as changing some of our furniture around, putting up a dementia-friendly sign to let folks know we have been trained,” said librarian Erin Sapienza.

The coalition was founded in 2015 by Lorenzo Mejia, the Orange County Department on Aging, East Chapel Hill Rotary Club and Acorn Home Care Services. It was founded to raise awareness about the disease and to create a dementia-friendly community.

“Dementia is not a single condition,” Mejia said. “It’s a broad spectrum of diseases.”

Dementia varies from person to person, but all people with dementia have limited cognitive capability. That limited capability, said Mejia, makes it harder for people to make decisions.

“People with dementia have similar issues (to those with physical handicaps), but we can’t see that,” Mejia said.

Janice Tyler, the director of the Department on Aging, said the coalition is focused on training businesses to become dementia-friendly partners in Orange County.

“It’s a very personal subject and we’re just trying to get as many more businesses as possible to make a dementia-friendly community,” she said.

Tyler said they try and make the training for businesses interactive. When a business calls and asks to become a dementia-friendly partner, a team is sent out to the business to train the employees. Training lasts for 90 minutes and includes a training video.

Sapienza said the training is an individual and collaborative process where the training staff and employees talk through what dementia is, how to react in certain scenarios and how to make changes to accommodate those with dementia.

“You come out with real concrete work that you can do for your organization,” Sapienza said.

Mejia said he would love to see dementia-friendly businesses spread across the county, and said other towns have also started dementia-friendly partnerships. He said Orange County was fortunate enough to have highly supportive businesses, rotary clubs and government agencies in the community.

“It’s important for people to understand it costs very little to create a better environment for people who have dementia,” Mejia said.

For Sapienza, the greatest part of training is the new perspectives gained to help better serve patrons.

“You learn to look at your environment through a different lens,” Sapienza said.

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