Challenges: More than five million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, every 66 seconds someone in the United States develops the disease and one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia. Commonwealth Assisted Living (CAL), one of the largest senior living providers in Virginia, operates 22 communities and is constantly evolving its care to meet the needs of residents with dementia. Despite the increased research around dementia, it’s very difficult to understand what it’s like for those who live with the disease. CAL recognized an opportunity to provide meaningful education about dementia and engaged Commonwealth Partnerships (CWP) to implement a publicity campaign to increase awareness and participation in its Virtual Dementia Tour (VDT) program.
Solutions: CWP conducted extensive research to design a publicity campaign for the VDT program. Working with the dementia and training experts at CAL, we outlined a targeted statewide campaign. In order to increase awareness about the VDT program, we invited reporters to attend the program when it was in their local area. We worked with local media to participate in the program so they could experience it themselves and share more robust reporting about the effects of dementia. The VDT program simulates the most common side effects of having dementia which gives participants a first-hand feel for what it is like to have the disease. Some of those side effects include: loss of auditory interpretation and increased confusion; loss of central and peripheral vision; loss of sensory nerves and fine motor skills; and onset of arthritis and neuropathy. An important component of the campaign was ensuring that the VDT trainers would be available to speak with members of the media to answer questions and provide more context. This also positioned CAL’s staff as experts in providing care for individuals with dementia. We also coordinated opportunities for reporters to speak with others who participated in the VDT training. This provided an authentic voice to the program. The most powerful interviews were with loved ones and caregivers after the VDT program because they could finally understand what their husband, wife, mom, dad, or friend was experiencing with dementia. Sharing a mix of research-based information and emotional experiences of real people, the news stories about the VDT program were both educational and compelling.
Results: The VDT media relations campaign was a huge success. During the campaign’s six-month period, 20 media placements were secured in major news outlets across the state. The VDT program was featured in print papers, online stories, radio programs, and local TV news. These results were double the campaign’s initial goal of 10 placements. The VDT publicity was so successful that CAL communities are now scheduling additional training programs because the demand is so high. Additionally, by promoting the VDT program in local markets, both CAL and its team members were positioned as leading experts in the care of individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. The program highlighted CAL’s commitment to compassionate care for residents and its position as a leading provider of memory care services.