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Celebrating Five Years of Dementia Friends Indiana

Dementia Friends Indiana Session

When care managers at CICOA Aging & In-Home Solutions began seeing an increase in the number of clients who were struggling with memory issues several years ago, the organization knew it had to do something.

Not only were clients suffering, but family members weren’t sure where to turn for help. Plus, there was a lot of misinformation and confusion in the community about dementia and Alzheimer’s. An estimated 130,000 Hoosiers live with dementia, and the number continues to grow.

Dustin Ziegler, CICOA’s vice president of clinical integration and engagement, went on a mission to do something to help. It began with CICOA’s launch of Dementia Friends Indiana in 2017, making Indiana the 10th state in the U.S. to join the national Dementia Friends movement.

Ziegler and a small steering committee targeted Hamilton County for a pilot program in 2018. It has since grown into a statewide initiative that has gained national attention. Most importantly, it is changing lives.

Bringing dementia education to emergency responders and medical students

Over the last five years, through partnerships, programs and committed volunteers, Dementia Friends Indiana is changing how Hoosiers think, act and talk about dementia and breaking down stigmas associated with various forms of dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body, Frontotemporal, Pick’s disease, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and more.

CICOA formed a unique, first-of-its-kind partnership with Indiana Department of Homeland Security, which now offers training to first responders (firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians), so they are better equipped to recognize if someone has dementia and how best to interact with them.

They learn how body language, maintaining eye contact and even tone of voice can help calm someone with dementia, especially during an emergency.

Noblesville and Carmel fire departments require all staff to go through Dementia Friends training. The Carmel Fire Department also produced a video to help the community better understand how to help people with dementia and the importance of becoming a Dementia Friend.

In 2022, Indiana University Medical School became the first medical school in the country to integrate Dementia Friends training into its curriculum, which helps first-year students understand what it’s like to have dementia and the challenges caregivers face.

Helping dementia patients and caregivers remain engaged in the community

Long-time CICOA volunteer Jean Ross of Fishers spearheaded efforts to start a Memory Café at Conner Prairie, which provides special programs for people with dementia and their caregivers. She also has trained Conner Prairie staff. The living history museum also added signage to highlight areas with resting benches and quiet spots to help those who have dementia.

“Memory Cafés bring people together where they can hang out, be themselves, have a fun activity and connect with other people,” Ross said while introducing the program in summer 2018, which continues today. “The museum is so cool to do this. There are a thousand different programs we can do–storytellers, World War II, music programs. The sky’s the limit.”

Other Memory Cafés include drive-in concerts featuring University of Indianapolis student bands and Paint the Towne Richmond.

Forging a path to make Indiana dementia friendly

Dementia Friends Indiana champions – more than 150 people across the state who want to help spread awareness and education – conduct information sessions in coffee shops, breweries, churches, basements, auditoriums, classrooms and online. They will go wherever a group wants to meet to learn more about helping and supporting people with dementia and their caregivers.

Dementia champions live, work and volunteer in the communities they serve. Throughout Indiana, many other area agencies on aging host regular sessions in cities such as Evansville, Muncie, Bloomington, Columbus, Richmond, Albany, Rockport, Plymouth, Brookville and more. Spearheaded by these efforts, three areas have been formally recognized as Dementia Friendly Communities – East Central Indiana, Rockport and Petersburg – with a fourth one in the works.

“Dementia does not just impact the patient and their family, it impacts the entire community, and that’s something most people don’t realize,” said Mindi Mauk, CICOA’s dementia programs supervisor, who now leads the statewide efforts.

More highlights of Dementia Friends Indiana

  • Nearly 11,000 Hoosiers have become a Dementia Friend through in-person or online training, which helps people understand the signs of dementia and how to help a friend, neighbor or stranger.
  • Indiana University Health Saxony Hospital became the first hospital in the state to be recognized as a Dementia Friends Indiana Hospital after it provided training to all staff.
  • Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill in 2021 that requires the Indiana Family & Social Services Administration Division of Aging to develop a strategic plan on dementia. The bill, authored by Rep. Gregory Porter (D-Indianapolis) received overwhelming bipartisan support.
  • Ziegler received the 2019 IU School of Medicine Bowen Center Trailblazer Award.
  • CICOA received national recognition for its work in dementia education and awareness at the American Geriatrics Society Scientific Conference this summer.

As much as Dementia Friends Indiana has accomplished in its first five years to bring positive change to dementia care in the community, the movement is just getting started. We need you to join us and be part of making Indiana a dementia friendly state! Start by becoming a Dementia Friend, or email us at dfi@cicoa.org to share your ideas.


Support the Dementia Friends Indiana program at our annual Topgolf fundraiser, Play Fore CICOA, on Oct. 20!