Could Serving Customers with Dementia & Alzheimer's Be a Competitive Differentiator?
The numbers of Americans with dementia and Alzheimer's disease is growing, due to greater longevity and the aging of the Baby Boomers generation. The Alzheimer's Association recently released the 2019 Alzheimer's Facts and Figures report. This publication indicates that today 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer's dementia and 10% of Americans 65 and older have this condition. This statistic doesn't take into account individuals with other forms of dementia. With the number of Americans in the 65+ age group expected to grow to 88 million by 2050, we can expect that the number of individuals with Alzheimer's and dementia will increase by at least 50%.
At most consumer-oriented companies, ears would perk up in response to a customer segment comprised of millions of potential buyers. Which begs the question – could serving individuals with dementia and Alzheimer's be a competitive differentiator for companies?
Dementia Friendly Communities & Businesses
Dementia Friendly America (DFA) is a national network that is working to ensure that American communities are prepared to support both residents with dementia and caregivers. "Dementia friendly" communities have several characteristics, including:
Specialized residential options offering memory loss supports and services
Health and long-term care that promotes early diagnosis and specialized care and support throughout the care continuum
Transportation, housing, public spaces
Dementia-informed local government, emergency planning, and first response
Welcoming and engaging communities of faith
Dementia aware and responsive legal and financial planning
Dementia aware and responsive banking practices
Businesses that foster customer service and environments that support customers with dementia and caregivers
DFA's Sector Guides offer guidelines for creating a dementia friendly community. These guides highlight best practices that businesses could use to better serve consumers with dementia, while at the same time, differentiate themselves in the market. Imagine if you were a caregiver and you knew that the local bank, barber, and grocery store would use dementia-friendly communication skills when your family member came in. The customer service staff would speak slowly, asking one question at a time, smile and make eye contact, and avoid embarrassing the customer.
The DFA Banking Sector Guide recommends that financial institutions serving clients with dementia understand red flags that may point to problems with money management, be on the lookout for signs of financial abuse, and engage clients in conversations early about legal documents like powers of attorney and contacts who make decisions on their behalf, if necessary. Imagine the peace of mind that caregivers and older clients alike would have, knowing that their bank understood their unique situation and was looking out for their best interest.
The DFA Business Sector Guide suggests that businesses provide quiet places for customers to conduct transactions, without distractions that could be overwhelming. Signage and pathways to restrooms and other important spaces should be clear and easy to understand. In the restaurant sector, Purple Table Reservations has already adopted these principles to serve customers living with dementia, Alzheimer's, autism, PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, hearing or vision impairment, or other conditions that could benefit from a predictable restaurant environment. Purple Table restaurants have serving staff who have been trained to understand different needs.
Living with dementia and Alzheimer's and caring for family members with these conditions is never easy. I remember as a caregiver being so appreciative when different stores or businesses treated my Dad kindly and with respect. It definitely created a positive customer experience and made me more loyal to those brands. Are marketing programs targeted at dementia and Alzheimer's families the wave of the future? I think it might be.
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