Going out for something as simple of a cup of coffee can be a stressful outing for people with dementia and their caregivers.

But nearly two dozen Sun Prairie businesses are welcoming them in with employees specially trained to be dementia-friendly.

Dina Pocernich, the owner of Prairie Flowers and Gifts, trained with her staff more than two years ago to provide good customer service to people with dementia and their caregivers.

The free training provided by Colonial Club helps employees recognize signs that a customer has memory and thinking impairment and how to communicate with them.

“The training is pretty intuitive, and not difficult to learn and it’s helpful to be given different strategies to use with customers,” Pocernich said.

The downtown Sun Prairie businesses is one of 23 in the city that are dementia-friendly. But local advocates want to see more businesses come on board.

Melody Riedel, Director of Operations and Services for the Colonial Club, conducts the free dementia-friendly training in Sun Prairie. She said it eases anxiety levels of caregivers and loved ones of people with dementia to know employee are trained to deal with specific issues.

“People are asking for names of businesses that are dementia friendly to take their loved ones to so they have that comfort level and can relax because they know employees will give them that extra TLC,” Riedel said.

More than 5 million people have Alzheimer’s Disease in the United States and those numbers are expected to double in the next 30 years.

The training done by volunteers from the Colonial Club and other organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association, takes between 30-45 minutes.

“We are all invested in this and we believe in the cause,” Riedel said of the Colonial Club involvement in the training. Other training volunteers come from Highland Campus, Senior Helpers, Sun Prairie Public Library, O’Connell Pharmacy, and other organizations.

Riedel said any size staff from big to small can be trained and times are flexible. In Sun Prairie, dentists, bankers, retailers, salons, pharmacies, funeral homes, and other businesses are dementia-friendly trained.

“These are folks coming into your business, eating lunch, buying flowers, having coffee, getting their hair done and they are just looking for help, a kind word, and want to be taken care of,” Riedel said.

Even businesses that don’t have an older clientele should get involved, Riedel said, noting that early-onset dementia can happen in 40-50 year-olds. It can also help train younger employees who don’t have personal experience with older adults who have dementia and memory loss.

Sun Prairie started its dementia-friendly efforts nearly five years ago but Riedel said it hasn’t progressed as much Cottage Grove, and Middleton, which she calls the rockstar of the initiative. She is putting out a challenge for more Sun Prairie businesses to get involved.

“We just keeping knocking on doors to offer training,” she said. “Sometimes it’s not an easy sell because some businesses don’t think they need it but it gives them the extra edge not just in dealing with caregivers and people with dementia but for all customers. It just enhances the customer service that they are already doing.”

Getting dementia-friendly training can also be good for a businesses’ bottom line, Riedel said, with publicity and marketing opportunities that help them stand out.

Prairie Flowers and Gifts, displays the purple Dementia Friendly logo on its front window, welcoming people in to browse, a chair to sit on, and employees who are patient and understanding.

Pocernich recommends others get the training.

“Any time that you are welcome to a population that is a good thing,” Pocernich said. “If you can be an open spot to come do businesses they will likely be return customers and that’s a good way of doing business.”

To find more about Dementia Friendly training email Melody Riedel at the Colonial Club, mreidel@colonialclub.org or (608) 837-4611.

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