By Renee Neumeyer, Valley VNA Business Development Director and Purple Angel Community Trainer

Did you know 70 percent of people with dementia live in their homes in their communities? A Purple Angel believes people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have an absolute right to enjoy a good quality of life and continued involvement in their local community so far as they are able and willing to do so. Stores, restaurants, and other businesses can be places of safety, compassion, and support for people who have these progressive diseases.

Business owners and employees become Purple Angel Aware when they invest in a short, insightful training session about customers and clients who may be experiencing the onset of dementia. The Purple Angel Awareness program was developed in the United Kingdom five years ago and has become a global effort to build dementia-friendly communities. The Fox Valley Memory Project is leading the charge in our local area, and Valley VNA is on the team, too.

I like to think of Purple Angel training as customer service at its finest. We want businesspeople to pause and think about those long-term customers that have been coming in for years—to the bank or the pharmacy or to buy a suit. When a person’s personality changes or she does something unexpected, be aware that she might be in the first stages of dementia. It’s like elder diversity training where we emphasize ways to be respectful, helpful, flexible, and patient.

Consider these tips and perspectives when working with older customers and clients who may have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease:

  • Slow down. Instead of rapid-fire speech like “Coffee? Tea? Soda?” speak a bit more slowly so your customer has time to comprehend your questions. You will help him keep up, not become frustrated or anxious.
  • Be patient. An older person might come into the bank and suddenly have difficulty balancing the household checkbook, something he has handled well for years. Take some extra time with him, and suggest you sit down in an office and go over it together. To help minimize confusion, you can draw a line at the bottom of his register, write in his balance and say, and say, “Let’s start here.” If a customer calls multiple times asking what her balance is, be pleasant and tell her.
  • Be nonjudgmental. If someone opts to dress in a wool sweater on a hot summer day, she may be confused about the best clothing for the season. Don’t ask her if she’s hot in her winter sweater or remark on the strange combination she’s wearing. Ask if she’s comfortable, or if she’d like you to take her sweater for her and put it over the back of her chair.
  • Be understanding. People with dementia often begin to lose their social filters; that is, they may say things that sound rude or harsh. Give them the benefit of the doubt and try not to take their comments personally.

Many people tell me after the training session they had an “ah-ha moment” because they now understand the changes they’ve been seeing in some of their customers. This is exactly the kind of awareness we are trying to build.

Take a short time out of your day to get trained as an angel. Someday we’ll all need one. This is your chance to be one.

Purple Angel Training Sessions

Businesspeople who complete a training session receive a Purple Angel decal and their names added as a participating establishment on the Fox Valley Memory Project’s web site. To inquire about future training sessions, please contact the Fox Valley Memory Project at

Winnebago County Wisconsin Dementia Statistics