Jan Zimmerman is a registered nurse and a dementia care specialist with over 30 years of experience in health care. She has been part of Heritage Homes Assisted Living and Memory Care in Watertown, Wisconsin since its opening in 2010, where she is currently the Director of Nursing. Through the years, Jan has gained a wide range of nursing experience from pediatrics to geriatrics, surgical care to psychiatric services, and hospital to home health. She is a trained instructor in dementia care and has been a speaker at multiple conferences and workshops covering topics such as dementia, medications, and alternative medical therapies.
Jan has been instrumental in starting a grass roots movement to make Watertown a dementia-aware, dementia-friendly community.
A dementia-friendly community is one that shows a high level of awareness and understanding for people with dementia/Alzheimer’s and takes steps to accommodate them. One of the main components of the movement is the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition, an organization of businesses committed to becoming dementia-aware. “We saw a need to help people remain a vital part of the community, looked around, and saw very little resources out there. When asked why would a small town like Watertown start something like this, we replied, ‘Why not?’" says Jan.
Here are a few of the highlights from my conversation with Jan.
What happens when a business joins the coalition?
“When a business joins the coalition we ask them a couple of things. A business can decide first if they want their employees to become dementia aware, and if they want to join the Watertown Dementia Awareness Coalition organization, or they can do both. If they join the coalition, they will agree to have education provided to their employees about basic dementia, and how it applies to their specific business.
We don't expect anybody to become dementia specialists; we just do basic what is dementia and the physical changes that are going on so that they understand there is an actual physical change. It isn't somebody just being stubborn or difficult. And then we touch on what types of behaviors that they might see with somebody coming into their business. And then how they can communicate with that person, how they can approach that person, maybe in a little different manner so that they can help decrease some of the confusion that may be going on.”
On the “Dementia Friendly Pledge” taken by local businesses
“Our pledge is we agree to commit to becoming dementia aware by learning more about dementia, how we can help employees become sensitive to the needs of a person living with dementia, and the people that support them. That is on our pledge sheet. And so by signing that, the business agrees to learn more about how to help employees become more dementia aware; and that they'll look around and assess the business environment to see how it can be made more dementia friendly, and maybe easier to navigate for a person with memory loss.”
On the Purple Angel symbol
“Purple has long been associated with dementia and Alzheimer's related diseases. When we started, we felt we wanted a logo that people would immediately associate with dementia. And after a lot of discussion and searching, we decided on the Purple Angel, which is the symbol of dementia awareness and collaboration in the battle against dementia.
The Purple Angel stands for hope, protection, inspiration, and universal teamwork per the PurpleAngel.org.uk
website. It's been adopted and shared by thousands of people across nations to indicate caring about those with dementia and wanting to help raise awareness. The Purple Angel acts not only as a guardian to those living with dementia, and their care partners, friends, family, but also as a helper to those who are working hard to raise the awareness of dementia around the world.”
Advice to communities interested in becoming dementia-aware/friendly
“Number one is just do it. Why? Because it's the right thing to do. Somebody has to start it. And one voice can make a huge difference. Approaching businesses, organizations, on a personal level really encourages a willingness to change, because as I said, it was very rare when I went into a business to talk to staff or managers that somebody didn't know somebody with dementia. People are just hungry for information. You want to remember that flexibility is really important. You try one thing and if it doesn't work, then you move on with your new knowledge and be willing to make mistakes. Talking, just get out there and do the talking; that makes a big difference. . . . What I suggest to people is just walk around the community. You know, are there people with cognitive memory concerns? Yes. I'll guarantee it. If you look at it from if you had a memory problem, would you feel comfortable going about in your community? Are there areas that make you uncomfortable?”