• Sometime between the evening of July 26 and the morning of July 27, Mr. Claude Hughes, one of our neighbors, walked away from his home in Oak Park. On Aug. 7, Mr. Hughes was found dead in the Forest Preserve, near the Des Plaines River at 1st Avenue. Claude Hughes was 77, he walked with a limp, and he had dementia.
  • Arbor West Neighbors (AWN) expresses condolences to Claude Hughes’ family, to his friends and to his community. We have all lost in his passing.
  • AWN recognizes and supports the impressive ongoing local efforts to educate about and support our neighbors with dementia and their caregivers, including but not limited to:
  •  Dementia Friendly River Forest and Dementia Friendly Oak Park designations
  •  Training our first responders and businesses
  •  Bracelet identification programs for those with dementia
  •  Memory Café program

Our local efforts are truly pioneering and laudable. And we can do better by identifying inevitable weaknesses and learning from them.

From 2000 to 2040, it is estimated the number of people over the age of 65 will double. This means an increasing number of our older neighbors, with or without dementia, will need our help. Mr. Hughes shows they already live with us. However, we don’t see them clearly enough because of the invisibilities of age and of race and of mental health needs.

As one of our AWN members commented, “My cellphone gets an emergency call whenever a child becomes the focus of an Amber Alert, but I’ve received no phone alert for Silver Search.” 

Silver Search is a statewide alert program for older people gone missing. Let’s help make our outrage and concern for our missing older people with dementia match that for our missing children.

The first public statement about Mr. Hughes came from a village of Oak Park news release on Aug. 3, a full week after Mr. Hughes went missing. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, communication channels will always be subject to the specific details of a crisis, and everyone involved is trying to do their best. As with cellphones, email networks can be a fast and widespread blanket to alert our communities.

One of the lessons Claude Hughes’ death can impart is that regional coordination and preparation to address the needs of our older neighbors is crucial. What does it mean to be a dementia-friendly town if our communities fail to become engaged in an emergency?

Toward that end, the AWN Advocacy Committee recommends the formation of a Neighborhood Age-Friendly Collaborative. This will be an intergovernmental and intercommunity body composed of elected officials, local government organizations, libraries, NGOs, grassroots organizations and others. It will be an important step in further organizing our “neighborhood” to not just recognize the changing age demographic but educate about it and act on that change.

Over the next month, the Arbor West Neighbors Advocacy Committee will build on work already being done to convene a series of online meetings to help organize our local Neighborhood Age-Friendly Collaborative. We look forward to working with any organization or individual who supports this effort. Please keep an eye out for our upcoming notices and emails.

Susan Stall, chairperson, Sandra Sokol, Ed Solan, Betsy Kelly, Ruth Reko, Marc Blesoff, Brooke Mcmillin, and Kathy Clark

Arbor West Neighbors Advocacy Committee

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