An uncontrollable outburst or failure to remember familiar names or faces can cause those living with dementia to needlessly withdraw from public life.

Alzheimer’s Alliance of Smith County Executive Director Stephanie Taylor has seen how those affected by the disease can become isolated.

“We had a gentleman who came to the Alzheimer’s Alliance that had quit going to church,” she said. “He quit going to church because he couldn’t remember the names of the people in his Sunday school class.

“One of the things we would educate churches on is something very simple: using nametags across the church so that no one feels like they have to remember someone,” she said.

To date, organizations such as the Alliance and the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce’s Senior Resource Committee have helped spearhead efforts to increase awareness and support for those living with the disease and their caregivers.

On Thursday, the Alliance announced Dementia Friendly America’s recognition of the city as a Dementia Friendly Community. 

The idea behind the communities is to raise awareness of dementia, recognize the needs of all who are affected by the disease and find ways to make the community more accessible for people living with memory challenges. Officials said Tyler is the second community in Texas to receive the distinction.

Taylor said it is both an honor and charge to do more.

“We received the recognition based on things that we’ve already done, but what this does is it gives us a platform and the tools that we need as a community to then expand, train and educate and increase awareness to all sectors of our community,” she said. 

She said everyone from waitstaff at restaurants, to those employing caregivers of those with dementia could benefit from learning more about the disease.

In a show of support, representatives from Smith County, the Northeast Texas Public Health District, Chamber of Commerce and other organizations were present at the news conference. 

“Across the United States, 5.7 million people age 65 or older are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common form of dementia,” NET Health CEO George Roberts said. “That number is expected to reach 7.1 million people in the next decade.”

He added that since the number is expected to rise, East Texans will have to work together more than ever to help support the growing number of those who are affected.

Don Kent, a retired lawyer who is living with Lewy body dementia, will serve on the Dementia Friendly Community Task Force. He received his diagnosis in March of 2017.

“I’ve decided since these last two years have been very informative to me that I want to be known as someone living with dementia, not someone dying with dementia,” he said. “In order to do that you have to have public education and awareness and acceptance of people with dementia. 

“This designation begins the process of accomplishing a Dementia Friendly Community here in Tyler, and I have never been more proud of my hometown city as I am right now,” he said. “… It will help people live with dementia, not die from it.”

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