Posted by Beth Soltzberg

On November 12, 150 people gathered at JF&CS Headquarters to talk about dementia. Not an easy topic; several studies have shown that Alzheimer's and other conditions causing dementia are among the most feared medical conditions often surpassing cancer. Yet the atmosphere at this symposium was one of hope and even joy.

Our focus was communities. How can we work together in towns, in religious congregations, in businesses, and among health and social service providers to better support and include people living with dementia and their care partners? This change is critical, since one in eight people age 65 and older currently lives with dementia, and this is one of the fastest growing segments of our population. Factor in spouses, children, grandchildren, coworkers, neighbors, and most of us are, or will be, directly touched by dementia.

Speakers John and Susan McFadden from northeastern Wisconsin spotlighted communities around the globe that have made it possible for people with dementia to continue to live safely in their neighborhoods much longer, and that offer care partners a level of support only dreamed of in most parts of the US. Poet Gary Glazner from New York City showed how the creative arts capitalize on brain functions often spared by dementia and spark communication and emotional connection. Secretary of Elder Affairs Alice Bonner encouraged us to strive for a dementia-inclusive Massachusetts, and Mike Belleville, who is living with younger onset Alzheimer's, inspired us with his own story of loss, personal reinvention, and resilience. The resounding message through all of these talks is that people with dementia can live well and make enormous contributions to others. The keys are to end the stigma and to increase support and inclusion.

This goal may sound lofty, but it turns out that many necessary resources already exist, such as sector-specific training materials from Dementia Friendly America. And many in our state have begun the process. Attendees at the symposium included individuals living with dementia, family members, health and social service providers, clergy, police officers, and state and city government leaders. The communities of Hudson, Marlborough, Northborough, and Westfield have already begun community-wide initiatives and the City of Boston recently announced that it would become "dementia-friendly."

Hope is in the air, and the time is now.

"Toward a Dementia-Inclusive Community: Tools and Inspiration from National Innovators" was co-sponsored by JF&CS and the Alzheimer's Association Massachusetts/New Hampshire Chapter. Supporters included HouseWorks, Boston Center for Memory, Sunrise Senior Living of Arlington and Weston, the Boston Alzheimer's Initiative, the Multicultural Coalition on Aging, the Hearthstone I'm Still Here Foundation and It Takes a Village Program, and the RoseMary B. Fuss Center for Research on Aging and Intergenerational Studies.

This event was made possible by generous support from the Lebovitz Family Charitable Trust.

This event was recorded, and video links will be available to the public soon. For more information, contact Beth Soltzberg at or 781-693-5628.

Beth SoltzbergBeth Soltzberg, LCSW, MBA, manages the Alzheimer's/Related Disorders Family Support program and works as a coordinator with the Parkinson's Family Support Program. These programs of Jewish Family & Children's Service encompass support, education, and the arts.Beth's work includes facilitating caregiver support and education groups, and designing new offerings for families affected by Alzheimer's disease and other dementias. Beth earned her MSW and MBA from the University of Chicago and a certificate in end-of-life care from the Smith College School of Social Work. She holds an advanced credential in hospice and palliative care social work.