Dementia Awareness Efforts Expand Across King County

A row of women stand with their Dementia Friends training certificates in hand.

Over 110,000 persons live with Alzheimer’s or other dementias in Washington state. Nationally, another person is diagnosed every 65 seconds. For many, and for too long, the dementia story has been one of fear, shame, and isolation. But across the world, and here in King County, efforts to raise dementia awareness, promote respect and challenge stigma are well underway.

An international public awareness campaign called Dementia Friends is being piloted in King County this year through the leadership of the Washington State Dementia Action Collaborative (DAC) and support from AARP Washington, Aging and Disability Services, and the Hearthstone. Based on a similar model in Japan, Dementia Friends was developed in the United Kingdom and licensed for use in the United States. It equips local volunteers—called Dementia Friends Champions—to deliver 90-minute dementia information sessions in their own social networks.

“As trainers, we represent a variety of backgrounds and ages,” says Emily Skola, one of 10 volunteer Dementia Friends Champions in King County. “It’s exciting that we’ll be able to get the information out to pockets of people in the community who maybe wouldn’t otherwise have access to it.”

Photo of nine people in a classroom setting, plus an instructor. All are seated.

Alisa Tirado Strayer trains volunteer Dementia Friends Champions

The sessions cover five key messages about dementia—for example, that it can impact more than just memory, and that there is more to the person than the dementia. They also offer communication tips and suggestions for how to be supportive to persons with dementia you encounter in your everyday life.

“I love that the information is in layman’s terms,” says another Dementia Friends Champion, Brenda Charles-Edwards. “It’s easy to present to people and easy for them to understand.”

Armed with this knowledge, each attendee commits to an action that can help build a dementia-friendly community. It could be as simple as bringing groceries to a neighbor or giving a friend a ride to a doctor’s appointment. Every action counts!

The local Dementia Friends pilot is taking place from January to June, with the goal of reaching 200 people. UW School of Social Work student Alisa Tirado Strayer is spearheading the pilot project and evaluation as part of her MSW practicum placement.

“There’s so much fear and misunderstanding out there about dementia,” says Strayer. “As we get people talking about it, and understanding what dementia is and isn’t, my hope is that our communities will become more inclusive and supportive to all.”

Photo of three young women sitting at tables during a Dementia Friends training.

Dementia Friends Champions at their initial training.

By September this year, Strayer will have completed the evaluation and recommendations for next steps. Based on this report, the DAC aims to expand the program across the state.

For the DAC, piloting Dementia Friends is a way to accomplish the public awareness goals of the Washington State Plan to Address Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias. At the same time, the program will address several key items in the Age Friendly Seattle Action Plan, such as the goal to “increase community understanding of dementia, its effects, and ways to be supportive.”

To learn more about Dementia Friends or to take an online Dementia Friends training, visit the Dementia Friends USA website at

Dementia Friends is one of several local efforts underway to promote understanding and reduce stigma. Members of the Gathering Place early stage memory loss program at Greenwood Senior Center recently launched the short version of their documentary, “Living with Memory Loss: In Their Own Words.” By sharing their personal stories and experiences, members aim to build more inclusive and respectful communities. Watch the free 16-minute versionor the abridged version.

As the number of persons with dementia in King County continues to grow, dementia awareness and understanding is also on the rise. “I hope that everyone who attends a Dementia Friends presentation will be able to pass what they learn on to others,” says Charles-Edwards. “People with dementia—and their families—deserve to be treated with compassion.”

photo of Marigrace BeckerContributor Marigrace Becker, MSW, manages Community Education & Impact with the UW Memory & Brain Wellness Center.

Photo at top shows the first group of Dementia Friends Champions in King County to complete their training.

This article originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of AgeWise King County.