When I was in my 20s, anyone 60 or older was irredeemably ancient. Clearly, one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. Now that I’m closer to 50 than 40, not only does 60 look fresh-faced and dewy, I’d call someone in their 60s a downright spring chicken.

Having lost my mom at 69, I’m thankful every day for my dad and stepmom’s phenomenally good health, mobility and sharpness in their mid-70s. It’s a blessing never to be taken for granted because so many others aren’t as fortunate. Having spent lots of quality time in long-term care facilities and hospitals, I’ve seen aging and dementia up close. I’ve also seen the fear, exhaustion, endless patience and pure love pouring out of caregivers. Unfortunately, those very care partners who are frequently spouses or grown children are often cut off from life outside the walls of their homes, with little to no respite from 24 hour care.

What would it look like if those with dementia were welcomed and understood by our community?

Instead of intolerance, fear or impatience, they were met with kindness and compassion? There are so many types and stages of dementia that few are the same. Certainly confusion, anger and socially awkward behaviors are the symptoms of many. Instead of isolating people with dementia in institutions or at home with their exhausted care partners, we can integrate and support them with activities within our community. How great would that be?

Three years ago, the CVC sponsored a community dialogue on poverty called Study Circles. Wildly successful, we had over 150 people take part and five of the seven initiatives are still going strong. Now we’re asking everyone to make time to gather for two hours a week over five weeks in a facilitated discussion. The subject: How we can make Sheridan County dementia friendly? The kickoff is Tuesday, September 22nd, at the Whitney Academic Center Atrium at Sheridan College, from 6:30-7:30. Study Circles will begin the next week and continue for five weeks with the Action Forum on November 4th at the YMCA.

You don’t have to be a caregiver or relative to voice your opinion and work toward action. The majority of us have had experience with someone with dementia, especially if you’ve reached my ripe old age. And at the rate the baby boomers are aging; you absolutely will be impacted by this subject regardless. Let’s work together now to find ways to make our community a place where everyone is welcomed and included, especially those living with dementia. If you can’t make the kickoff, call the CVC for the days and times of the Study Circle that works best for your schedule. We need you in this conversation.