Julie Hill, life enrichment director at Bell Trace. Photo by Erin Stephenson

Julie Hill, life enrichment director at Bell Trace senior living community, has a personal stake in promoting Bloomington as a dementia-friendly community. The 56-year-old’s mother and sister are living with late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, and her grandmother died from the illness. “No matter where you work or live, or how old you are, this issue will affect you,” Hill says. “If you are living, you are aging. We need positive examples of better solutions that people can duplicate and be inspired by. The question is, are we going to be leaders or followers?”

Last spring, Hill and nine others founded Dementia Friendly Bloomington, and in May, the organization hosted a conference for more than 80 people to launch their efforts. Mayor John Hamilton proclaimed May 4, 2017, the day of the conference, as Dementia Awareness Day in Bloomington.

“Bloomington has a well-deserved reputation for valuing each of our 85,000 residents and the diversity they embody,” Hamilton says. “As a community, we seek to be supportive of every individual and family dealing with this deadly disease. That means we must work to be informed and provide supportive options with the goal of safe, quality care for those afflicted with dementia and their families. This is Bloomington, and we take care of each other.”

As one part of the initiative, businesses are being certified as Dementia Friendly Bloomington sites—places where at least 50 percent of employees have been trained to understand the changes and challenges faced by people with dementia and their care partners. One way employees can help is by slowing down and allowing guests more time to respond to questions. “It helps empower them,” explains Amanda Mosier, 36, another of the organization’s founders and community health coordinator for the IU Health Alzheimer’s Resource Service. Other aspects of the initiative include education and assistance programs.

“The group’s end goal is really to create a dementia-competent community that allows for better aging-in-place for all its members, and honors the wisdom of older adults,” says Heather Kinderthain, 45, Jill’s House community relations coordinator. “People living with dementia are still living and giving and learning and growing.”