Tyler becomes only second Texas city recognized as Dementia Friendly Community

Published: Feb. 22, 2019 at 11:26 AM CST
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TYLER, TX (KLTV) - The City of Tyler has earned many designations over the years, but its most recent may have the biggest impact yet: Tyler has been recognized as a Dementia Friendly Community.

The Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County hosted a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Chamber of Commerce to announce the recognition from Dementia Friendly America.

A dementia friendly community, as designated by Dementia Friendly America, is “informed, safe, and respectful of individuals with dementia and their families, provides supportive options across community sectors, and fosters quality of life." Support is what people living with dementia need the most from their community.

“In March 2017, I was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia,” said Don Kent, a retired lawyer. It’s been almost two years since Kent’s diagnosis, but he said he knew from the day he was diagnosed with life would like living with the disease.

“I knew almost immediately I would not be able to work, practice law," Kent said. “I asked [my doctor] what he thought, he said well he’d like me to keep working, but I was a lawyer who represented doctors in malpractice cases. I asked him, would you want me representing you? And he said no, and I knew my days of practicing law were over.”

Lewy body dementia is the second-most common form of neurodeformative brain disease behind Alzheimer’s; it affects around 1.4 million people in the United States, Kent explained. In the months following his diagnosis, he said he learned that living with dementia meant his wife would also be living with it.

“My wife calls them my “microwave foggy days.” I drink a lot of coffee in the morning, and I sometimes put them in the microwave to warm it up. Some days, when I’m in really bad shape, I won’t be able to operate the microwave; I don’t know what buttons to push, what order. A very simple task becomes virtually impossible.," said Kent. “Some days, I wake up and don’t recognize my wife. You know, we’ve only been married 43 years.”

Stephanie Taylor with Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County said Tyler being recognized as a Dementia Friendly Community brings awareness to the issue in the community, and offers many opportunities to reduce the stigma around a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

“I think it also brings us a great platform and the tools that we need to look at the gaps and address those gaps,” said Stephanie Taylor, executive director the Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County. “Examples of that might be someone who quit going to church because they couldn’t remember the names of people in their Sunday school class. So, educating churches on instituting a name tag policy across your entire congregation.”

The City of Tyler is now working with the Alzheimer’s Alliance and Dementia Friendly America to create a task force whose job is to ensure the community is more accessible to those living with the disease.

“That committee will look at where we have strengths in supporting those living with dementia in our community -- because we do have a lot of strengths and successes to be proud of -- but then what are the opportunities as well," said Taylor.

Opportunities like hosting church services just for those living with dementia, or businesses and restaurants who train employees to realize signs of dementia in order to better serve their customers.

Because, in the end, Kent said the symptoms of the disease are just that: symptoms.

“We will forget things, we will repeat ourselves; recognize that that’s the disease," Kent added. “We need for people to understand that and just deal with that in a way that’s appropriate for dealing with people with dementia, and that will be part of the education process.”

The committee created through the Dementia Friendly Community designation is not funded, so it relies solely on donations and future grants organizers will apply for to help turn ideas into action. Tyler is only the second community in Texas to be named a Dementia Friendly Community.

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