Weather Forecast


Community that cares: Local initiative seeks to make area dementia-capable

WILLMAR — Members of a local action team envision a future for Willmar as a dementia-capable community that cares well for its aging adults with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias.

The Willmar ACT on Alzheimer’s team is one of seven in Minnesota awarded a grant to develop community plans that will help ready the state for an anticipated tidal wave of families coping with Alzheimer’s.

Team members say their ultimate goal is for awareness and competence to be embedded in how Willmar responds to Alzheimer’s, from medical and service providers to family caregivers, law enforcement, clergy, retail workers and even ordinary citizens.

“Collaboration is absolutely imperative. It takes multiple disciplines to come together,” said Andrea Carruthers, chairman of the team.

Last year a local core group, one of four in the state, was formed to do a preliminary assessment of local needs.

The team is now moving ahead with an analysis of what the community’s strengths are and where the gaps exist. Priorities will then be identified and a plan developed that could become a model for other cities.

State leaders say the need is urgent. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are already 100,000 Minnesotans living with Alzheimer’s, a disease that largely strikes older adults and for which there is neither prevention nor cure. By 2025 this number is projected to grow by at least 40 percent, adding millions of dollars to an already high cost of care.

The cost isn’t only financial. Seven out of 10 people with Alzheimer’s still live in their own home and many live alone, putting them at risk of malnutrition, falls, wandering and accidental death. The toll also spills over to the estimated 250,000 family members in Minnesota who are caregivers for a relative with Alzheimer’s.

ACT on Alzheimer’s was created in response to a report by a statewide panel presented to the Minnesota Legislature in 2011.

The panel’s chief recommendation: Increase community capacity for addressing Alzheimer’s, including better early detection, integrated care, support for caregivers that allows people with dementia to remain at home as long as possible, and greater community awareness overall.

The ACT on Alzheimer’s collaboration tackles each of these, using selected local communities to develop and test toolkits that can eventually be shared statewide.

The Willmar group is still in the early stages of convening and conducting an assessment. The group’s focus is on equipping communities to become dementia-capable. Other demonstration sites are looking at how to sustain caregivers, how to raise awareness and reduce stigma, and how to improve early detection and care.

“Any steps are going to be positive,” Carruthers said.

Sharyl Helgeson, director of the Atwater Area Living at Home Block Nurse Program and a member of the Willmar ACT on Alzheimer’s team, said it will be important to hear from the public as the local plan is developed.

“We don’t know what we’re going to discover,” she said. “We really need to be open to what the community members joining us at the table tell us and want.”

The group is starting with Willmar but hopes to eventually expand its work to all of Kandiyohi County.

Members plan to seek another grant at the end of 2014 to help with implementation. The current phase of the grant is funded by Blue Plus and the Medica Foundation. New grants of up to $18,000 remain available until March 4 for eligible communities that wish to join the ACT on Alzheimer’s collaboration.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

(320) 235-1150