There are around 25,000 people in the Lehigh Valley community who are living with Alzheimer’s. Many people who have Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders (ADRD) will live around 7-10 years after they are diagnosed. Even though there will be many cognitive and functional changes and difficulties during those years, the individuals and their caregivers still want to be involved in their communities and continue their friendships and relationships. However, there are still many misunderstandings and exclusions for those with ADRD that need to be addressed.
Dr. Kelly O’Shea Carney decided to found Dementia Friendly Lehigh Valley (DFLV) while working as the Executive Director of the Phoebe Ministries Center for Excellence in Dementia Care and serving on the PA Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Plan Committee. She realized the importance of working with all the community sectors, such as healthcare, businesses, government, public services, and faith communities, to help minimize the barriers that people with ADRD and their families and caregivers face.
“Ultimately, the goal of all DFLV activities is to enhance the well-being and quality of life of people living with dementia and their care partners across the Lehigh Valley,” says Dr. Carney. “DFLV strives to raise awareness, reduce stigma, foster inclusion, and enhance accessibility across all sectors of the community so that people living with dementia can enjoy the same quality of experience, interactions, and support that all citizens enjoy.”
Since its inception in 2012, DFLV has been completely run by volunteers. There have been many meetings, activities, and events throughout the years to turn DFLV’s mission into a reality. Some of these include a Physician Training Course at St. Luke’s University Health Network, Community Conversations with Lehigh Valley community stakeholders, and outreach tables at various local events and expos. Two other programs include Project Lifesaver and Silver Alert.
“Project Lifesaver is a search-and-rescue program designed for individuals who may be at risk of wandering, putting themselves in life-threatening situations. Participants wear a wrist bracelet with a small transmitter that emits a radio signal that law enforcement can track when someone goes missing. The goal is to provide a timely response in order to reduce potential injury and save lives for adults and children who wander because of cognitive issues.”
“Silver Alert is a public notification system that broadcasts information about missing persons, especially older adults with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other related mental limitations…if someone with dementia or a similar cognitive limitation goes missing, a call to the police will trigger the MEPAS alert system. Vital information will be sent to local media outlets, such as TV and radio. An alert will also be placed on highway message signs, including a description of clothing, car if indicated, and where the person was last seen.”
DFLV wants to continue to expand its reach throughout the community and local groups to “create a greater community that embraces and encourages people with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders by cultivating dignity, empowerment, and autonomy. We envision a community of organizations and individuals equipped to support people living with dementia so they can remain in the community and engage and thrive in day-to-day living.”