COVID Can’t Stop Dementia Education
by Debbie Selsavage,
PAC Certified Independent Trainer and Consultant
My company, Coping with Dementia LLC, was formed in 2015 to make life better for individuals and families living with dementia. We fulfill this mission by conducting PAC-based care partner training, public speaking, and writing for several regional publications in west-central Florida. In 2018, we also contributed to the launch of a new nonprofit called Dementia Education Inc. to support research and learning in techniques of person-centered compassionate care.
In 2017, to foster a better public understanding of dementia, we created a portable photo exhibit containing framed portraits of 24 famous Americans who have succumbed to dementia. That exhibit went on a tour of public spaces, mostly libraries, where it was seen by an estimated half-million people, and was featured in the PAC Online Dementia Journal in April of 2018. By prior agreement, it was donated to the Alzheimer’s Family Organization earlier this year.
Our 2020 schedule of speaking and training was shaping up to be the busiest in our history, then COVID arrived. Like others, by mid-March everything on our calendar was canceled due to the demands of social distancing. For the first time in five years, we had time on our hands.
My partner, Ed Youngblood, and I talked about how much we had enjoyed the photo exhibit and what we had learned about transporting and placing it on display. We had some ideas about how to create a new exhibit containing even more famous Americans that would be designed for easier transportation and more flexible use of available space.
Over the next two months we developed and assembled a new Famous Americans Dementia Education Photo Exhibit that contained 42 framed portraits and was more compact and easier to move than our previous display. But what were we going to do with it? COVID dragged on and as Summer has changed into Fall, public facilities are still closed.
At this point, the very creative staff of VITAS Health Care entered the picture. VITAS is a large national hospice organization, and has a beautiful facility on a large campus in our county. They learned about our new exhibit and proposed opening it out-of-doors at what we would call the VITAS Dementia Education Festival.
The clever part about the VITAS plan was that tents containing exhibits about the famous Americans would be lined up along their private drive so visitors could walk through wearing masks, or take a drive-by tour of the Festival. Twenty other health care agencies and companies in our county joined in to help make our Dementia Education Festival a colorful and exciting event.
Our Festival got tremendous publicity, and I think all of us involved were excited about how creativity had overcome the obstacles caused by COVID. We are sure this will not be the last Dementia Education Festival we will see in Florida’s Citrus County.