A city learns about ageing

Michael Sommer

An entire city is learning how to deal will people suffering from dementia: Arnsberg is a small, normal city in Germany that has been adjusting to demographic change in a special way for around 20 years. The citizens are voluntarily caring for sufferers of dementia, training for taxi drivers and sales assistants is being offered, there are programmes for sufferers and their carers, programmes stretching across all generations and much more.

European prize “Living Well with Dementia”

The demographic change of society becoming order is a process that poses new challenges, particularly to the local community and neighbourhood. People with limited mobility are dependent on this social environment, on other people and institutions that understand, support and help them. Examples from voluntary work show that professionally organised support can bring about many positive achievements. This particularly applies to people who suffer from dementia. Since the mid 90s, Arnsberg in Germany has been particularly active in including elderly people in the development of the city, to provide them with specific (learning) programmes and to provide appropriate continuing education to the citizens. This commitment led to the development of the model project “Lern-Werkstadt” Demenz (“Learning workshop” Dementia). The project also received the European prize “Living Well with Dementia in the Community – European Foundations Initiative on Dementia (EFID)”.

The sales assistants sit patiently in the training room: What do you do if a customer leaves the bakery without paying and clearly suffers from dementia? This type of training is to teach as many people in the city as possible who may come into contact with people with dementia how to deal with them. Bus and taxi drivers have been given training as well as bank and administrative employees.

Academy 6 to 99

In Arnsberg 50 projects have been developed with around 600 volunteers. This also includes the “Academy 6 to 99” which resulted from the cooperation between the local technical college and the specialist department »Future of Ageing« of the city of Arnsberg. This may seem unthinkable in other places – an institution responsible for the initial training of young people organising and running a cross-generational education programme. The younger generation benefit from the experiences of the older generation and the young people contribute theatre outings and games afternoons for seniors.

Many ideas from the citizens themselves or the specialist department “Future of Ageing” have been implemented since this concept was developed in the 90s. This includes, for example, elderly-friendly shopping concepts, a special senior ticket for buses and trains, a conductor for seniors in buses, exhibitions, cross-generational projects and campaigns, an active senior advisory board and much more.

Volunteer work

What are especially important are the many programmes that directly address the people with dementia and their families through voluntary work, guidance offers, music or painting programmes or cross-generational programmes. However, it is striking that adult education also plays a significant role, from training multipliers in pedagogy and explaining dementia to children to the continuing education course “Telling fairy tales to people with dementia”.

Handbook ensures distribution

Many ideas and support material have been summarised in a handbook for communities. This is intended to encourage other communities to follow the same path, which, according to Arnsberg’s Mayor Hans-Josef Vogel, should lead to a “caring community in the city of long life”.

European InfoNet Adult Education, 12.09.2014