Nags Head, NC – More than 85 community members along with staff gathered in The Outer Banks Hospital lobby Wednesday, April 26, to hear Mark Hensley, dementia services coordinator for the North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services, congratulate OBH on its work to pave the way as the First Dementia-Friendly Hospital in the state of North Carolina. Hensley, who is leading the effort to implement North Carolina’s first Alzheimer’s state plan, emphasized the importance of educating our community about the increasing number of individuals with dementia and the urgent need to build a strong support system for caregivers. “In North Carolina, we estimate there are 160,000 people with some type of dementia,” noted Hensley. “I’m afraid to say that we expect that number to almost double in the next seven to 13 years.”

Following Hensley’s remarks, Marcia Bryant, vice president of clinical operations at OBH and Dianne Denny, chair of the Healthy Carolinians of the Outer Banks’ Dementia Task Force and executive director of Spring Arbor, both spoke passionately about the work to build a dementia-friendly Outer Banks community. Bryant noted that OBH gladly began the effort by training staff in best care practices that include a sensitivity to and an awareness of the difficulties faced by those with dementia and their caregivers. “Every community includes individuals with memory impairment,” said Bryant. “We can create a dementia-friendly local community [by helping] those with dementia and their caregivers feel respected and included in our everyday lives. This is our challenge.”

Denny then acknowledged the members of the Dementia Task Force and applauded the extent of their work, which began March 13, 2014. Based on the 2013 Community Health Assessment that revealed that individuals with dementia and their caregivers needed more support, the task force developed and executed several lofty goals some of which included creating educational programs for caregivers, first responders and local businesses; developing one-on-one counseling; advocating for the addition of a specialist on the beach; and establishing a local Alzheimer’s walk. Denny echoed Hensley’s comments about the increasing number of dementia cases, and asked audience members to raise their hands if they had first-hand experience with dementia through a family member, co-worker or friend. Almost every hand was raised. “That’s why we, the members of the Dementia Task Force, do what do,” she concluded.

Jan Collins, a Dementia Task Force member, then offered insight as the first dementia-friendly volunteer at OBH. “We know that with dementia comes feelings of anxiousness,” said Collins. “We [as volunteers] help to reduce that agitation by approaching the individual in a different manner and implementing soothing tools.” Collins is now one of the many volunteers who are trained in best practices and are on call when a family member or caregiver needs to leave for a short time.

The program closed with the presentation of two glass seahorses to OBH President Ronnie Sloan and to Denny for their leadership and dedication to the dementia-friendly cause. The purple seahorse was adopted by the Outer Banks community as the symbol for dementia because purple is the nationally designated color for Alzheimer’s and “seahorse” is a noun translated from the Latin word “hippocampus,” which is the portion of the brain that plays a major role in memory.  

After the presentation, Sloan concluded the event by saying, “This community is just amazing. Where there is a will, there is a way. I think we invented that here.”