Cleveland Heights is 'dementia friendly'

Six years ago, at the age of 62, I was diagnosed with early onset dementia. On that fateful afternoon, my wife, Emily, and I began a journey into the wilderness of dementia, disability and discernment. We had to accept the reality of my diagnosis: I had to retire early as dean of Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland; Emily had to put our financial and legal affairs in order; and, together, we had to figure out how we were going to live with dementia.

One of the decisions we made was to return to Cleveland Heights. We gave up our newly built dream home in Detroit Shoreway for a 100-year-old house on Scarborough Road. Why? We wanted to be close to family and friends in a neighborhood where I had long-term, embedded memory. We wanted a quiet, safe, walkable community with parks and trees. We wanted local restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries, shops, movie theaters, and fitness facilities. We wanted to be within walking distance of a great public library. And, most importantly, we wanted to live in a diverse community with shared values and vision.

Over the past six years, as I’ve been making a new life as a retiree in Cleveland Heights, I’ve found that I’m not alone. I’ve met many others who are struggling, yet thriving, with various forms of cognitive impairment due to brain injury, disease or aging.  

I’ve learned that dementia is the world's seventh leading cause of death, the foremost reason for disability and financial insecurity among the elderly, and a growing public health crisis. One in three persons over the age of 85, and one in 10 over 65, will have some form of dementia. Based on these statistics, some 200 residents of Cleveland Heights and their families are [likely] living with dementia.

I’ve learned firsthand that while dementia doesn’t discriminate, access to quality care does, sometimes causing financial ruin for those affected by it. I worry that, as baby boomers age, and dementia begins to accelerate at a more rapid pace, this condition could bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid. In this political climate, I’m fearful that we’ll start warehousing those who don’t have family support systems, can’t take care of themselves, and can’t afford assisted living.

There is hope. Anticipating the growth in dementia, cities around the globe are becoming dementia-friendly communities. They are deliberately cultivating a climate where people living with dementia and their families can thrive and remain engaged in the community.  

According to the organization Dementia Friendly America (DFA), in dementia-friendly communities, banks, businesses, restaurants and even Uber or Lyft drivers learn how to accommodate customers who have cognitive impairment. First responders learn to recognize the signs of dementia, and act accordingly; health care systems promote early detection, diagnosis and effective interventions; and faith communities intentionally welcome and make accommodations for those living with dementia.

In dementia-friendly communities, local governments design and build housing, transportation, and public spaces that enable people with dementia and their care partners to live independently; residents learn how to interact sensitively and create networks of support; and residential care providers and community agencies offer services to maximize independence and encourage ongoing community involvement.

Last year, DFA designated Cleveland Heights a dementia-friendly community. To celebrate this milestone and continue the journey, the Lee Road branch of Heights Libraries will host Dementia-Friendly Cleveland Heights Week, May 15–20. It will offer programs for individuals living with dementia, care partners and families affected by dementia, community professionals, and concerned neighbors.

I encourage everyone to participate in this year’s Dementia-Friendly Week, and help to make Cleveland Heights a year-round dementia-friendly community where people living with dementia, and their families, can find a home with visible and easily accessible support.  

Tracey Lind

Tracey Lind, a Cleveland Heights resident, is the retired dean of Trinity Cathedral, an Episcopal priest, city planner, writer, and photographer.

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Volume 16, Issue 2, Posted 12:00 PM, 01.31.2023