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Westfield partners with Armbrook, becomes ‘Dementia Friendly’ City

Date: 12/5/2014

WESTFIELD – Mayor Daniel Knapik announced that Westfield has committed to become a Dementia Friendly City, alongside Beth Cardillo, the executive director of Armbrook Village on Dec. 2.

By becoming a Dementia Friendly City, the city of Westfield will work to provide educational tools that will help business owners, town officials and residents how to recognize signs of dementia and how to communicate with people with dementia.

Knapik said that there are more than 8,000 people living in Westfield who are 60 years or older, and with a sizable part of the city’s population “moving rapidly toward retirement,” he said it became evident that something needed to be done. The decision to become a Dementia Friendly City, Knapik said, was an easy one.

“They have paid their due to society, and as these issues came to the forefront, it become apparent that we didn’t really have a good safety structure in place to address them,” Knapik said. “Then when you get into the demographics, it is startling how quickly we are going to get much older and we really need to double our efforts and make sure that we are taking care of a population that took such good care of us all these years.”

The City of Westfield has taken many strides in accommodating for the senior population, as Knapik said it was major point in his mayoral campaign. With plans in place for a new senior center, senior housing and assisted living facilities, Knapik said there still was more that the city could do.

“As much as it fills a critical gap in the community for memory care services, the need is much greater,” Knapik said.

Thus far, more than 60 first responders have been trained, along with health care providers and caregivers. Next are plans to work with city hall, the Westfield Chamber of Commerce and the senior center.

The training puts the responsibility on the city government and its residents to learn about dementia and take the steps to decrease what is an often-stigmatized condition.

“People with dementia can continue to have a fulfilling life and we want to make sure it’s our responsibility that those years have quality, substance and, above all, hope,” Cardillo said.

The Dementia Friendly movement has gained ground in the United Kingdom and Australia, though it was a town in Wisconsin that took steps to become dementia friendly that caught Cardillo’s eye.

Now, Westfield is the first city on the East Coast to be a designated Dementia Friendly City.

Though Cardillo said it was a long process, the motivation of those involved was enduring, and it paid off with the announcement.

“This is so exciting. We’ve been working for a long time doing research and getting it together and coming up with the presentation and having a website,” Cardillo said. “It’s been a long time and nobody’s lost the momentum. No one’s lost the motivation, the commitment and the momentum to make it happen, so we’re glad it’s here.”

Cardillo said that it “all starts with education,” so there are two components: virtual training and education. She said she hopes that others will follow Westfield’s lead in creating an educated and responsive city.

Overall, however, Cardillo and Knapik are comfortable being the trailblazer on the East Coast.

“Why is Westfield taking on this challenge,” Knapik asked. “Because we are a compassionate community and we want to do our part in combatting this stigma of dementia right here and right now in our own city.”

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