Dementia-Friendly Communities

Dementia logoThe people of Wisconsin are coming together to support their families, friends, and neighbors living with dementia. Whether someone lives in a small town or a large city, whether they are young or old, anyone can get involved in helping their community to become dementia friendly.

The sections below provide information about how to become involved in an existing dementia-friendly community initiative, or how to get one started. Opportunities to involve youth and schools are listed in the section below titled, "Crossing Generations." The section on "Getting Out in the Community" includes information on different types of programs and social opportunities that exist specifically for people living with dementia and their loved ones.

How To Get Involved

Younger adult comforting an adult in wheelchair outside.

The Toolkit

Anyone can get involved in making a community more “dementia friendly.” The "Building Dementia-Friendly Communities Toolkit" and other resources on how to become involved or start a new initiative can be found here.

Dementia-Friendly Symbol

This purple symbol was designed by Jane Moore and Norman McNamara of Devon, United Kingdom, for use in “The Purple Angel Dementia Awareness Campaign.”

Image of the Purple Angel logo

The purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness and help support people with dementia by providing information on how shops, businesses, and other services in the United Kingdom and beyond can support people with dementia. The symbol and related logos are now recognized in a number of countries, including the U.S. and Canada.

In Wisconsin, Aging and Disability Resource Centers and other organizations, such as the Fox Valley Memory Project, have incorporated the use of the symbol in their work to help raise awareness about how communities can become more dementia friendly. A purple “dementia-friendly” symbol on a business’s window indicates that their employees have received training on how they can help better serve their customers with dementia.

Get Involved in Dementia-Friendly Communities Activities

If you want to be part of a community’s efforts to be “dementia friendly,” a good place to get more information is the local Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC). ADRCs are the first place to go to get accurate, unbiased information on all aspects of life related to aging or living with a disability. ADRCs are friendly, welcoming places where anyone—individuals, concerned families or friends, or professionals working with issues related to aging or disabilities can go for information tailored to their situation. The ADRC provides information on a broad range of programs and services, helps people understand the various long-term care options available to them, helps people apply for programs and benefits, and serves as the access point for publicly funded long-term care. These services can be provided at the ADRC, via telephone, or through a home visit, whichever is more convenient to the individual seeking help.

Some ADRCs have a Dementia Care Specialist on staff. In addition to memory screening and other ADRC services, the specialists can provide two evidence-based programs, one for people with dementia and one for family caregivers. Dementia Care Specialists receive additional training on the special needs of individuals and families on the journey with dementia, and can connect people with local programs and other opportunities to help them stay active and engaged in their communities. Specialists can meet with families to help them understand what is happening and to make plans for the future. Specialists are also involved with local dementia-friendly community initiatives and can help people to become involved in their local efforts.

Crossing Generations

Elderly hand being held by younger hands A dementia-friendly community recognizes that people of all ages can be affected by dementia, and children are no exception. Children may live with a loved one with dementia, or witness the struggle of a parent to provide care to someone who lives in another location. Of all caregivers providing care to someone with dementia, 23% have a child living with them. Children want to understand dementia and they want to help. Below are two ways that children can participate in dementia-friendly community efforts.

Wisconsin School Curriculum

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction issued the Brain Health Mini-Unit in 2015 for use in middle and high school classes. This unit was designed to be flexible for teachers and provide basic information on the following topics:

  • Normal Aging
  • Risks to Brain Health
  • How to Reduce that Risk
  • What is Dementia
  • Symptoms (including behavior changes)
  • Music & Memory

The curriculum provides educators with all the information they need to present the topic to their students, with many community engagement opportunities that can accompany the content. Students can become involved in dementia-friendly community efforts, as well as participate with local Music & Memory™ programs. The curriculum includes a PowerPoint presentation for use in the classroom, including videos and other interactive material. The presentation is located on the first page of the curriculum and is accessible through a link on that page.

This Brain Health Curriculum for Schools (PDF) poster was presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Toronto in July 2016. The poster created for the conference includes information about the curriculum and showcases data collected from students who participated in the curriculum in the first year.

Music & MemoryWI Music and Memory

The memories and feelings associated with a person’s favorite music remain strong for people living with dementia. The Music & Memory™ Program has shown how an individual’s favorite music can have a positive effect on their mood and level of engagement with the people around them. Playing the music that the person with dementia has a personal connection to can energize them, and even access some of the language abilities they still have related to their music. Favorite music can also help someone with dementia to feel calmer and can put them in a better mood. The Wisconsin Music & Memory Program began in nursing homes across the state, and is being expanded to assisted living facilities and other care settings, as well as in people’s homes, through a variety of grants and collaborations. To see an example of Music and Memory in action, watch this brief video featuring Henry.

The Wisconsin Music & Memory Program is also being expanded to assisted living communities, other health care entities and people’s homes through a variety of grants and collaborations. Students participating in the Wisconsin school curriculum will be invited to engage with individuals with dementia and contribute to the success of the program by helping put music selections on personal listening devices, working through local Music and Memory™ programs.

One example is the Wisconsin Student Volunteer Program. Under the pilot program, high school and college students are connected with volunteer opportunities at local nursing homes. The goals of the program include increasing access to personalized music as well as providing companionship and variety in daily routine. Similar programs are being piloted in library settings.

Getting Out in the Community

Grandparents sitting with two kids playing chess while parents sitting in the background talkingAn important part of being a dementia-friendly community is to include people living with dementia, and their family and friends, in community life. Staying active and engaged is beneficial for people with dementia as well as their caregivers. Providing social activities where people can come together without fear of embarrassment from the symptoms of dementia is an important piece of every dementia-friendly community.

Memory Cafes

Memory cafes are places where people naturally gather to enjoy social activities, such as coffee shops, restaurants, libraries, nature centers, community centers, places of worship, and others. Memory cafes are not support groups, but are social gatherings convened on a regular basis for people in the early stages of dementia or memory loss, along with their family and friends.

Memory cafes include engaging activities and information covering a wide variety of interests, with topics selected by cafe participants. Refreshments are typically available and a person knowledgeable about dementia and available resources is present to answer questions. Memory cafes provide a setting where family and friends can spend time together with someone living with dementia in a supportive and understanding environment.

Memory Cafe Directory


SPARK! provides the opportunity for people with dementia to visit and enjoy museums across the state of Wisconsin. Modeled after the program “Meet Me at MoMA,” SPARK! offers special days and times for people with dementia and their families to enjoy all of the cultural experiences of a museum visit at a comfortable pace. Fourteen museums serving Wisconsin residents participate in the SPARK! program.

Library Programs

Local library systems can serve as additional sources of dementia-related information and community programming. Some libraries are involved in broader dementia-friendly community efforts, engaging in activities such as co-hosting memory cafés, holding presentations on the topics of dementia and caregiving, and helping provide connections to dementia specific resources in their communities. For more information, inquire at your local library or Aging and Disability Resource Center.

Last Revised: August 5, 2019

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