February 28, 2021

New program aims to make Heard County a ‘Dementia Friendly’ community

Pictured above at the first Heard County Dementia Friendly program meeting in December are (L-R): Gavin Finch, Mike Nolley, Patty Jiles, Christy Thornhill, Andrew Owensby, Neil Awbrey, David Marlowe, Emily Rogers, Beth Burgoon, Debra Combs, Callie Hill, Sandi Robinson, Kathy Knowles, Nikki Chapman-Richards, and Hope Blakely (Photo: TRAAA)

(Franklin, GA) — A group of business and community leaders recently met in December for a presentation on dementia at the Three Rivers Regional Commission/Area Agency on Aging (TRAAA) in Franklin.

Leaders from churches, local law enforcement agencies, businesses, and other local government agencies learned about what it would mean to make Heard County a Dementia Friendly Community.

Emily Rogers, Deputy Director of the TRAAA organized the meeting and the group has already received a small grant from the Georgia Gerontology Society, a non-profit organization that educates, serves and advocates for older adults and their families in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Human Services, Division of Aging Services.

The starter grant provides funds and a toolkit that helps guide communities through a research-informed process that fosters adoption of dementia friendly practices in all parts of community.

The toolkit is designed to be flexible and adapt to fit a community’s needs and complement other project management processes.

A Dementia Friendly Community is one where all people can live, age, and thrive, including those living with dementia and their care-partners.

Every member of the community understands their role and works together to create a culture that helps ensure people who are memory-challenged can live independently for as long as possible.

When memory changes occur, individuals often become isolated, which can further hasten cognitive decline.

A community that understands dementia will be one that supports its neighbors who are struggling to deal with loss of memory, loss of the ability to do routine activities, loss of independence, and loss of self.

Three Rivers Area Agency on Aging plans, coordinates, and administers programs for older adults, caregivers, persons with disabilities, and grandparents raising grandchildren as well as provides a vital link to information and assistance for programs and services available in the 10 county region of West Central Georgia.

Deputy director Emily Rogers says many contributing local factors necessitate the implementation of this new plan.

“We think it is very important to begin this process of making Heard County Dementia Friendly. Heard County is rural, with limited access to health care and education surrounding dementia,” says Rogers.

“Georgia’s population of individuals 65+ is 13.9%, whereas Heard County’s population over 65 is 17.5%. Another relevant factor, median income in Georgia is $52,977, while in Heard County it is only $44,897.”

The deputy director says that disability rates that are nearly double the state average also add to the need for the Dementia Friendly program in the county.

“Disability rates under 65 in Georgia are about 8.8%, but in Heard County, it is almost double at 15.2%. It is logical to infer, the target initiative group suffers disproportionately as they continue to age in our area,” adds Rogers.

At the group’s first meeting, David Marlowe with the Alzheimer’s Association, Columbus Chapter provided a 20-minute presentation on Dementia, signs, causes, symptoms, and treatments.

At the end of the meeting, the group completed questionnaires with a focus on current strengths and gaps in Heard County for assisting those living with dementia and their caregivers. The group also brainstormed on other groups who needed to be included in future meetings.

Dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms including impaired memory and thinking. Alzheimer’s is one cause of dementia. There are over 200 causes.  David showed a variety of short clips from the ALZ.org website.

Studies show that people directly affected by dementia can have the most important role in any dementia-friendly community. By sharing their experiences and connecting with others, they ensure that communities keep the needs of people affected by dementia at the heart of everything they do.

Anyone can be a big help in making a dementia friendly community prosper. From government agencies and local shops, to book clubs and churches, everyone can play a part in creating communities where people with dementia feel active, engaged and valued.

The group’s next meeting will be this Thursday at 12:00 PM at the Three Rivers facility located at 13273 Georgia Highway 34 just inside the city limits east of Franklin. Everyone who is interested in the program is invited to attend.

The new program is already receiving support from ‘engaged partners’ in the community that include the Franklin Housing Authority, Heard County Sheriff’s Department, Heard County Board of Commissioners, City of Franklin Police Department, Heard County Development Authority, Alzheimer’s Association (Columbus Chapter), Franklin First Baptist Church, Glenloch Baptist Church, Heard County Senior Activity Center, Heard County Health Department, McIntosh Trail Management Services, Bank of the Ozarks (Franklin Branch), as well as some individuals and care partners already living with dementia.

Those who attended the first meeting included Christy Thornhill and Sandi Robinson (McIntosh Trail Management Services), Kathy Knowles (Development Authority of Heard County), Patty Jiles (Heard County Board of Commissioners), Neil Awbrey and Gavin Finch (Glenloch Baptist Church), Andrew Owensby (Franklin First Baptist Church), Mike Nolley (Retired from Department of Family and Children’s Services), Callie Hill (Heard County Health Department), Debra Combs (Bank OZK), Beth Burgoon (Franklin Housing Authority), David Marlowe (Alzheimer’s Association), Hope Blakely and Emily Rogers (Three Rivers Regional Commission), and Nikki Chapman-Richards (Franklin Police Department).

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