Dementia Coalition working to make the Outer Banks friendly to those with dementia and their caregivers
By Hannah Lee Leidy/Correspondent
Perhaps you’ve seen the small purple seahorse dotting the doors and windows of restaurants and businesses around the Outer Banks. The subtle decal identiﬁes dementia-friendly businesses where staff members are trained to identify individuals with dementia and foster compassionate and supportive environment for them and their caregivers.
Don’t be deceived by the small sticker. It represents an ambitious push to make the area the ﬁrst dementia-friendly community in North Carolina, spear-headed by the Outer Banks Dementia Friendly Coalition.
The movement began in 2014 by the Outer Banks Dementia Task Force, now the Outer Banks Dementia Coalition, a 501(c)(3) nonproﬁt. A community assessment conducted by the hospital and health department that deter-mined the area suffered from a dearth of services and support for people living with dementia and their caretakers.
“On the beach we don’t have the same services as they have in bigger cities,” says the coalition’s chairman and co-founder Dianne Denny. “Often-times, the caregiver is forgotten, and they need assistance.”
“We formed to be help-ing hands for caregivers,” Jan Collins agrees, member and other co-founder of the coalition.
The coalition’s group of volunteers, hospital personnel and representatives from community sectors (including the police, social services and business owners) collaborates to create and implement strategies that make the Outer Banks a safe, accepting and supportive community for people living with dementia and their caregivers. They conduct staff trainings at local businesses; offer educational programs, support groups and one-on-one counseling for caregivers; advocated for a dementia specialist on the beach, and started the annual Walk to End Alzheimers.
“Our biggest goal is to educate the public at large that caregivers can get support,” Collins says.
Denny and Collins know about the value of supporting caregivers from ﬁrst-hand experience: Collins comes from a nursing back-ground, and she spent 10 years caring for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s. Denney worked in senior living for 30 years, witnessing dementia’s effect on residents and their loved ones. In 1995, her own father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
“It’s funny how you get put in a certain place so that you can help those that need help,” she says.
The coalition’s ﬁrst goal targeted the Outer Banks Hospital. They trained pr actioners, nurses, administrators, ﬁrst responders and anyone who comes into contact with patients. They show them how to interact with patients with dementia in a way that made them feel safe, cooperative and comfortable. Patients’ rooms have that signature purple seahorse posted outside the door as an indicator to staff.
The coalition’s work resulted in the Outer Banks Hospital becoming North Carolina’s ﬁrst dementia-friendly hospital.
“The dementia-friendly designation is one that the hospital is pioneering and sharing with other health systems across the country,” Denny says.
This laid the ground work for the coalition’s efforts to turn the Outer Banks into a dementia-friendly community at the larger level.
“You must look at shops, restaurants, markets and streets through the eyes of a person with dementia. Then do everything possible to make it a place where those with dementia can continue to live as independently as possible,” Collins says.
Their next step, and perhaps most publicly visible, targeted local restaurants. Restaurants earning their dementia-friendly designation have Collins and Denny conduct training with staff. They hand out booklets, give a presentation, and educate through different role play scenarios.
“For example, if you bring out someone’s food, and a person with dementia says ‘Well, I didn’t order that,’ simply lower your voice and say, ‘I’m so sorry, I’ll be right back. ’Take the food back to the kitchen and come back to the table. Ask the patient again what they’d like for lunch, the chicken or the ham? When they say, ‘The ham,” go get their plate and bring it back to them. They’ll more likely remember ordering it,” says Collins. “This and other examples show ways of diffusing a situation while keeping everyone’s dignity intact.”
Employees then take a short quiz, and every-one receives a certiﬁcate showing they completed the training. The coalition’s dementia-friendly trainings are free to all restaurants interested in participating. Collins hopes that collaboration with the Outer Banks Restaurant Association and individual business owners will eventually leadto50% of the community’s restaurants sporting the purple seahorse sticker.
“The key is publicity and getting the public aware that there is a dementia-friendly coalition. We need the public to know who we are and how we’re available to them,” Collins says, emphatically.
She and Denny envision an Outer Banks where the purple seahorse appears at the entrances of not only small businesses, but also chain restaurants, grocery stores and pharmacies.
“The biggest thing would be reaching the grocery stores and the corporations,” Collins says. “Imagine what we could bring to attention not just on the Outer Banks but nationally if we got the Harris Teeters and the Food Lion all dementia-friendly certiﬁed at the corporate level!”
For the time being, though, they hope care-givers and families will seek out the coalition’s resources. Their support groups performed strongly, though have since paused due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“At one meeting a care-giver said, ‘It helps me so much to just sit here and listen and hear that it’s not just me who has these challenges,’ ”Collins says. “We want to people to talk about it and know that there’s no stigma associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia
Find the Purple Seahorse here:
Barefoot Bernie’sTropical Grill&Bar
Basnight’s Lone Cedar Café
Black Pelican Oceanfront Restaurant
Blue Moon Beach Grill
Blue Water Grill & RawBar
Duck Woods Country Club
It’s All Gravy Italian Eatery
The Kill Devil Grill
Mako’s Beach Grille&Bar
Mulligan’s Grille in Historic CottageRow
Pamlico Jack’s Restaurant
Stack’Em High Pancake House
Sugar Creek Waterfront Restaurant
Dare County Department of Social Services
Dare County Transportation
Outer Banks Hospital
Seascapes Vacation Rentals
Southern Bank—Kill Devil Hills
Sunshine Family Pharmacy