Building a dementia-friendly community on the OBX

By on June 25, 2018

You may have heard the term “dementia-friendly community.” If not, you probably will soon because the Healthy Carolinians of the Outer Banks (HCOB) Dementia Task Force is leading a growing effort that encourages local businesses and organizations to become dementia friendly.

Why? Because people with dementia and their caregivers have very special needs, and according to the World Health Organization, more than 50 million people worldwide live with this syndrome — a number that is expected to increase to 75 million by 2030.

Often there is confusion about the difference between dementia and aging forgetfulness. Aging happens to everyone; dementia does not. Aging is a natural and expected aspect of human life; dementia is a disease. Forgetfulness can make retaining new information frustrating at times, but new information can be retained. In contrast, a person with dementia will eventually be unable to retain new information. There are many different types of dementia, one of which is Alzheimer’s.

A lack of awareness and understanding of dementia can result in barriers to diagnosis and proper care. As part of the Dementia Task Force initiative, The Outer Banks Hospital became the first local organization to create a dementia-friendly environment, and the first hospital in the state of North Carolina to be designated “dementia friendly.”

A dementia-friendly hospital provides an environment where patients with dementia are valued and respected, where the changes in the person are noticed, and where they and their caregivers are understood and accepted.

“Included in the journey to becoming dementia friendly was educating every staff member who would come in contact with a cognitive disorder patient about that individual’s special needs,” said Lisa McGaha, director, inpatient services. “That includes everyone from our clinical staff to our admissions and environmental services teams to our volunteers.”

She added, “It’s heartwarming to see how team members have embraced the training and have made it a part of our culture here at OBH.”

Additionally, the hospital now has a team of 11 companion volunteers who visit and care for patients with dementia.

“We want families and caregivers to know that they have a resource and are not alone,” said Jan Collins, Dementia-friendly Task Force member and the first dementia-friendly volunteer companion at OBH.

The dementia-friendly designation is one that the hospital is pioneering and sharing with other health systems across the country. “We are happy to go first and lead the way for other local organizations and businesses. We hope others will join us,” emphasized Marcia Bryant, the hospital’s chief nursing officer.

Building on the hospital’s efforts, the task force has made it a goal to increase community awareness and understanding of dementia and actually create one of the first dementia-friendly communities in North Carolina. That requires looking at its shops, restaurants, markets, and streets through the eyes of a person with dementia, then doing everything possible to make it a place where those with dementia can continue to live as independently as possible.

Developed by the Dementia Task Force, The Purple Seahorse has become the identifier for dementia-friendly organizations and businesses. When the symbol is displayed, it indicates that the business or organization has undergone training to learn how to identify someone with dementia so that they can make the experience in their environment one that is sensitive to the needs of that person and the caregiver(s).

Task force members train restaurant staff on site. Currently, there are 13 restaurants on the Outer Banks that are designated dementia friendly, and word is spreading fast. In fact, the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association contacted Dianne Denny, chair of the Dementia Task Force, to inquire whether the training could be placed online so that restaurants statewide could access it. Denny also noted that the task force is getting ready to do training at Walgreens, the State Employees’ Credit Union, and Southern Bank here in Dare County.

“We had big dreams when we began the task force five years ago, and the community has been instrumental in achieving a lot of those dreams,” said Denny. “We still have a lot to do, but it’s amazing how far we’ve come.”
For more information about the Dementia Task Force and about becoming a dementia-friendly business or organization, visit

Watch the dementia-friendly designation celebration at The Outer Banks Hospital »

Watch the HCOB Dementia Task Force video »




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