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Purple Angel: Creating dementia-friendly community, one business at a time

By Heather Graves

BROWN COUNTY – Those living with dementia can feel isolated from society, fearful of how they will be treated or accepted in the community.

Purple Angel, a subcommittee of the Brown County Dementia Friendly Community Coalition, is doing what it can to help ease those fears by providing businesses and organizations with training on how to create a welcoming space for people with dementia and their caregivers.

“By creating a dementia-friendly community where people can find their way around safely, access local businesses that they are used to and know and maintain their sense of belonging in the community, we can help fight isolation and loneliness of people with dementia and their caregivers,” said Anne Zieglmeier, chair of the Purple Angel subcommittee. “We want our community to be safe, welcoming and supportive to all.”

Zieglmeier said approximately 14,000 people in Brown County are living with dementia.

The Purple Angle program was started in the United Kingdom by Norman McNamara, a man living with a form of dementia.

“Norman began noticing that people in his community were beginning to treat him differently and were not as welcoming as they used to be,” Zieglmeier said. “He had the idea to train businesses and organizations on how to recognize and communicate with someone who has dementia. He named it Purple Angel. He chose purple for the color of dementia, and angel for his wife and caregiver, who he refers to as his angel.”

Locally, the subcommittee began its training program in 2016.

“Three years later, we have more than 100 businesses and organizations trained,” Zieglmeier said. “We know there are many more businesses/organizations out there that could benefit from having this free training.”

As part of the program, volunteers provide a free, on-site, 30-minute training which teaches employees the basics of dementia, how to recognize and communicate with people who suffer from it and how to create a welcoming space.

“We provide information specific to business type in our trainings,” Zieglmeier said. “For example, we provide specific tips and information for hair salons, grocery stores, restaurants, banks, etc.”

She said to be considered Purple Angel-trained, organizers recommend management and at least 50 percent of employees attend the training.

“We meet businesses where they are at,” Zieglmeier said. “We are very flexible.”

The group trained businesses and organizations are identified by a Purple Angel decal displayed in their window.

They will also get their picture and business tagged on the Purple Angel Facebook page and are added to the Purple Angel google map.

“Our main goal is to continue increasing the number of Purple Angel-trained businesses and organizations,” Zieglmeier said. “By the end of 2020, we hope to have reached at least 150. But we are shooting high and would love to exceed this goal. We are really looking to raise awareness, reduce stigma and allow people with dementia to feel comfortable continuing to be part of their community.”

She said in 2020, the group plans to survey caregivers and people affected by dementia to help narrow the subcommittee’s focus to see where there is still a need for Purple Angel.

Businesses or organizations in Brown County interested in becoming Purple Angel-trained can contact Zieglmeier at 920-448-4304, email [email protected] to learn more.

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