Saline Man’s Personal Experience Fueled the Grassroots Movement “Dementia Friendly Saline”
By Carleen Nelson-Nesvig, STN Writer
A remarkable series of events began in Saline in early 2019. It all started with Jim Mangi, a passionate and dedicated member of the local congregation, Holy Faith Church, Episcopal, and ELCA Lutheran. Because of his wife Kathleen’s journey with Dementia, Jim had become deeply concerned about dementia awareness in his community, and he decided to act.
Saline, a town of around nine thousand people, might seem like an unlikely place for a dementia awareness initiative. Still, Jim organized a series of lectures at his church, which he aptly titled "Dementia Friendly Activities." He didn't have a big budget for advertising, so he relied on word of mouth and a few flyers to spread the word.
Jim was surprised at the overwhelming response: "For 12 weeks on Wednesday nights, about sixty people gathered in the church's social hall to learn about dementia, its challenges, and how to support individuals living with dementia. Each week, I covered various topics, from effective communication to legal and financial planning for long-term care and even the sensitive issue of driving and dementia.”
As the series progressed, Jim felt his community's interest growing even more. People were hungry for knowledge and eager to make a positive change. The last lecture in the series was about turning the community into a dementia-friendly one. Jim outlined what such a community would look like, and this idea resonated deeply with those in attendance, including Brian Marl, Saline’s Mayor.
Jim recalls Mayor Marl was the first to stand up after Jim's presentation and declare, "Let's do it." From that moment on, the Mayor and other council members were true to their word, and the seed of a dementia-friendly community was planted in Saline.
Over the next four years, the city government of Saline took proactive steps to become dementia-friendly, with around 90% of municipal employees receiving dementia-friendly training. But Jim's vision extended beyond the city limits. He wanted to reach out to businesses, retail stores, and restaurants to create a more inclusive and understanding environment for people living with dementia wherever they were.
While progress with the business community wasn't as rapid as Jim had hoped due to his limited bandwidth, he remained determined. He realized that partnerships with local outlets could help reach a wider audience and engage more businesses in becoming dementia friendly.
Today, Jim is thrilled to report that the group has done dementia-friendly practices for Recycle Ann Arbor. He is working with the Ann Arbor Kiwanis Club, who want Jim to teach volunteers how to be dementia friendly at their Ann Arbor Thrift store on Jackson Road. “We are happy to reach out to Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Manchester, Pinckney, Brighton. Anyone that will invite us,” said Jim. “Our mission is to educate anyone willing to listen about the simple yet impactful ways to support individuals with dementia.”
Dementia Friendly Saline has also started offering training to churches, teaching them to understand the unique challenges individuals with dementia face and how to make them feel welcome during services.
Jim explains, “One of our key messages is to emphasize that behaviors exhibited by individuals with dementia are due to the disease and not intentional. We encourage communities to be patient and kind, offering simple insights into how to make life easier for those affected by dementia.”
As its efforts continue, Dementia Friendly Saline also creates educational videos to reach a wider audience. The videos provide various scenarios, such as shopping in a grocery store or enjoying a cup of coffee in a café, highlighting the challenges people with dementia may face, and providing practical tips for businesses and individuals to support them.
Jim states, “Our training videos, along with our live workshops, make a significant impact.” Jim and his team even partner with local theaters to create Dementia-Friendly Movie Nights, providing an inclusive and enjoyable social experience for people living with dementia and their caregivers.
The program's success has expanded to nearby towns like Canton, Rochester, and even as far as Geneva Lakes in Wisconsin. The word is spreading, and more communities are eager to become dementia friendly.
Jim's ultimate goal is to make dementia-friendly practices the norm, not the exception. He believes that with awareness, education, and small changes in behavior, communities could become more understanding and supportive of individuals living with dementia.
For more information on Dementia Friendly Saline, visit https://www.dfsaline.org/