Dementia Friends USA expanding into Johnson County

Dementia Friends Iowa is being launched in Johnson County, to foster inclusivity in the community for dementia-associated residents.


Gabby Drees

Oaknoll Retirement Residence is seen in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 27, 2022. Oaknoll will begin a dementia assistance program for their residents.

Simone Garza, News Reporter

Oaknoll Retirement Residence plans to add a new program for dementia associated with their residents.

Dementia Friends USA was developed by the Alzheimer’s Society in the U.K., and is establishing a Dementia Friends initiative in the U.S.

The Alzheimer’s Association reported that Iowa currently has 66,000 people that are diagnosed with dementia, with predictions that indicate it will increase more.

Kim Bergen-Jackson, Oaknoll Retirement Residence administrator, said she got introduced to Megan Zimmerman, Dementia Friendly state coordinator with the Dementia Friendly Iowa initiative in the Northeast Iowa area Agency on Aging, through a mutual committee earlier this year.

“For Oaknoll, I wanted us to be involved because we have a lot of staff who are experts in caring for people who are living with dementia,” she said.

Bergen-Jackson said Oaknoll currently has 12 trained staff members, and plans to train 12 more.

“We’re creating a list of businesses where we think adults who are living with Dementia, where they might come in contact with someone who has dementia and the general public and might offer a supportive hand,” she said.

Zimmerman said her two main duties are helping build Dementia Friendly communities and helping train volunteer champions to offer Dementia Friend sessions in the community.

“Dementia Friends is actually a global movement and it’s happening here in Iowa, as well as across the world,” she said. “Basically, the goal is to educate many different people in the community about dementia.”

Zimmerman said the local initiative launched in Cedar Valley in 2019.

She said anyone can become a Dementia Friend, as long as they participate in one Dementia Friends session. The session teaches the basics of dementia, communicative strategies, signs of dementia, and community resources.

Volunteers that offer the sessions, after attending Zimmerman’s training, are considered Dementia Friends Champions.

Zimmerman said dementia-associated residents have helped present some of the sessions across the state, themselves.

“We think that’s really important to learn straight from people with dementia because they’re the experts on this,” she said. “It’s been such an honor to get to work with people like Dr. Bergen-Jackson and many others, who are really passionate about helping make our state a better place for people with dementia and their families.”

In addition to retirement homes, the organization is currently applied at the University of Iowa.

Brady Curran, the program coordinator at the Iowa Geriatric Education Center, said Iowa GWEP has partnered with Zimmerman to provide this program across the state and more locally on campus as UI Dementia Friends.

“What Dementia Friends are doing is helping to create a community in which people living with dementia thrive and feel like they are important and matter,” Curran said.

“If we can educate younger people about dementia and what it means to live with dementia, and what it’s like to experience dementia, I think we’ll have a more empathetic community to be more inclusive.”