Richfield works toward becoming a 'dementia friendly' city

Several cities in Minnesota are working toward becoming dementia friendly cities. 

Statewide, there are 91,000 people 65 years and older living with Alzheimer’s and even more with dementia. 

In Richfield, there are about 750 people over 65 living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. The city wants to make sure those residents are getting the help they need. 

Dennis Thornberg was diagnosed with dementia when he was 65. His symptoms declined so fast that he lost his ability to speak, but he was still allowed to drive—until he was pulled over by a metro police officer. 

“He was mumbling and they grabbed him out of the car, threw him to the ground and tazed him,” his wife Lou-Ann Thornberg said. 

She said that at the time police thought her husband was on drugs and put him in jail. The officers weren’t trained to identify or understand the signs of dementia. 

Thornberg’s personal experience with dementia is one of the reasons she’s helping to make the city she works in dementia friendly. It’s her hope that the entire Richfield community is able to recognize the symptoms before overreacting, getting scared or turning away. 

“All of the sudden, they’re lost,” Thornberg said. “Maybe they’re staggering and looking for help. What we want to do is educate those businesses and the community, so that they know the signs to look for.” 

Richfield has started assembling an action team. Although it’s just in the beginning stages, the plan is to educate and train police officers, firefighters, community leaders, transportation employees, healthcare and business workers. 

“We want to be able to display an emblem in our windows that say we are a dementia friendly business,” Thornberg said.

The emblem would serve as a tool for families with loved ones suffering from dementia, providing comfort for them knowing that a local business knows what to look out for when they see it. 

There are four phases to becoming a dementia friendly city. For Richfield, it will likely take between a year and a year and a half.