Smith spoke about her husband’s experience with dementia at a press conference celebrating a $900,000 federal grant that will fund Orange County’s Dementia-Friendly community initiative.
The initiative, which is the first in the state, aims to better the quality of life for dementia patients by increasing awareness, sensitivity and community inclusion for those who have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-related diseases.
“I don’t believe anyone quite understands the magnitude of this award,” said Mark Hensley, an Alzheimer’s support specialist. “Orange County has received one of only a handful of grants supporting change in the community to become dementia-friendly.”
Smith said she never thought she would be an advocate for dementia-awareness until her husband was diagnosed in 2007.
“It doesn’t matter how successful an individual is or how well known or how remarkable his memory, it doesn’t make one exempt from developing a neurocognitive disorder,” Smith said.
“(Dementia) is chronic, progressive and terminal.”
Smith said she was lucky in having a support network around her when her husband was diagnosed with dementia.
She hopes that the initiative will help create those networks for others who suffer from dementia.
“The devastating disability, the lack of awareness and the need for more research funding tends to overshadow the need for support for families,” Smith said.
“It takes a village to provide care.”
The initiative also plans to train local businesses to recognize symptoms of dementia in their customers and how to make those customers feel comfortable and welcomed.
“If salespeople appreciate that big menus with lots of options can be intimidating or that a credit card terminal is daunting, it will have a profound impact on how people experience that business,” said Lorenzo Mejia, originator of the Orange County Dementia-Friendly Business Campaign.
Mejia said 10 Orange County businesses have signed up to be trained in the early pilot stage of the campaign.
Half of these local businesses have already completed their employee training sessions.
“We are so excited to receive this grant,” said Janice Tyler, the director of the Orange County Department on Aging.
“The quality of life for this sector of our population will increase immensely as a direct result of these federal dollars.”