Five Questions With: Laurie Gunter Mantz

Laurie Gunter Mantz is the founder and CEO of Dementia Training for Life, a Providence-based nonprofit that trains a range of health care providers on how best to approach caring for people with dementia. The group recently won the 2019 Health and Wellness Business Accelerator Impact Award from Social Enterprise Greenhouse.

Mantz is also executive director of Rhode Island Memory Cafés, another nonprofit that organizes social opportunities for people with dementia and their caregivers.

PBN: When was Dementia Training for Life formed, and what was your motivation for creating it?

MANTZ: Dementia Training for Life was established in Rhode Island [in] May of 2017. As an occupational therapist, clinical educator and former executive director of a 67-bed, memory-care, assisted-living community, I heard, and witnessed, that our health care community had little to no understanding or training in dementia care. Alzheimer’s disease is just one of over 120 different diseases that cause dementia. We have a rapidly expanding segment of the population who are living with different diseases causing dementia and loved ones providing care for those individuals. They are not getting the support, care or services they need.

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I am also a family member: Both my grandmothers and my dad. My father never got a proper diagnosis, even after 14 falls in one year. My No. 1 goal has always been to train health care professionals how to provide person-centered care, reduce the misinformation and stigma associated with dementia, and to provide hope that life does not end at diagnosis. Many people living with dementia will tell you they are now living well with dementia thanks to research, education, programs and resources. But we still have much to do.

PBN: What events, programs or activities has the organization hosted or participated in so far?

MANTZ: Dementia Training for Life is proud to have trained thousands of health care professionals, from [doctors to certified nursing assistants], more than 100 first responders, hundreds of community members and senior-service providers, and dozens of people living with dementia and their care partners. We have spoken at and created continuing-education curriculum for [University of Rhode Island, Johnson & Wales University and Rhode Island College], presented at conferences locally and internationally, and created a nonprofit organization, the Rhode Island Memory Cafés.

PBN: What do you aim to accomplish during training sessions?

MANTZ: The trainings we offer emphasize the current gold standard of person-centered care. No two people are the same. Specific diseases affect each individual differently based on their past life experiences, sex, cultures, faith, ethnic background, education, interests, talents, traumas and social determinants of health. We can’t expect two people diagnosed with Lewy body disease – the second-most common form of dementia – to all react, behave and progress through their disease process the same. Until recently, that was not understood.

Unfortunately, our health care professionals, at all levels, are not taught or prepared to provide that individualized care. Dementia Training for Life offers full-day courses that can lead to certification as a certified dementia practitioner, recognized internationally, and in-service training for front-line staff at nursing homes, assisted-livings and hospitals. We also provide on-site staff coaching, family support, home safety assessments and care planning services.

Our nonprofit organization, Rhode Island Memory Cafés, started on June 21, 2018, in Providence and currently meets in 10 communities throughout R.I., providing a social gathering for individuals with cognitive impairment and their care partners. It’s a time to socialize, learn new skills, recognize that they are not alone on this path with dementia and to just have fun! They are free and open to the public, without stigma. We have reconnected old friends and family … and realize that we are never too old to learn … even with dementia.

Research has shown that we can slow, and even prevent, some cognitive decline with exercise, social and intellectual stimulation, stress management, diet and sleep. We address the first five of those components in our Memory Cafes, with tips on how to implement skills at home. Thanks to community partnerships with senior centers, houses of faith, museums and senior-living communities, people are getting out and socializing, enjoying life and even finding new passions and joys while adapting to cognitive impairment.

PBN: Can you share some of the things you learned from participating in Social Enterprise Greenhouse’s accelerator?

MANTZ: Dementia Training for Life had the pleasure of participating in the Social Enterprise Greenhouse Health and Wellness Accelerator Program and won the Impact Award in December 2019. This invaluable experience introduced us to accomplished professionals who openly offered professional advice and mentorship, provided exceptional instruction and guidance for our business development and expansion, and challenged us to think outside of the box to make the greatest social impact in the region for our expertise. It was like getting your master’s degree in business, in 12 weeks.

We have created business relationships and even expanded our staff through their Talent Search program. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in exploring or expanding a business that will have a positive social impact.

PBN: What are some future goals for Dementia Training for Life?

MANTZ: The future goals of Dementia Training for Life include: 1) Help make our hospitals become dementia-capable. Currently, the cost of care for an individual living with dementia is the most expensive diagnosis due to frequent hospitalizations, emergency room visits, unnecessary medical tests and procedures, complications and inadequately prepared health care systems. Depending on the diagnosis, if identified or unknown, if the individual has a care partner or lives alone, and the reason for the hospital visit, it is well-documented that patients with cognitive impairment have a greater chance of death and complications than those without. Unfortunately, we currently have no cures for dementia, so it is up to the health care community to adapt to meet the needs of this rapidly growing population.

2) Expand the Rhode Island Memory Cafés to reach all regions of R.I. and provide the support and services needed for individuals living with dementia. Dementia doesn’t only impact the individual diagnosed. The stress of providing care can shorten the lifespan and create significant health complications for the care partners. The diseases impact the family, friends and the community.

Without appropriate education and understanding, everyone is negatively impacted and the cost of care skyrockets. We can improve the lives and the care of individuals living with dementia. It takes a change in awareness and our behavior, professional knowledge and support systems to empower individuals to be independent, provide purpose and joy, while living life for as long as possible while adapting to the challenge of dementia.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN staff writer. She can be reached at