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Alzheimer’s coalition settles on projects to implement

This flier outlines some of the services available for seniors, caregivers, veterans, the homeless and more. The local ACT on Alzheimer’s group is seeking to spread awareness through trained community educators. (Submitted )

WILLMAR — A local Alzheimer’s disease coalition has set its sights on increasing the number of support groups for caregivers of older adults with dementia, along with developing a cadre of trained community educators to help spread awareness of Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia.

Implementation will start this fall.

It’s hoped that the two projects will help set Willmar and Kandiyohi County on the path toward becoming a dementia-capable community.

“It’s a matter of working together as a team,” said Andrea Carruthers, coordinator of the ACT on Alzheimer’s group that is part of a statewide initiative to prepare Minnesota for what’s expected to be a dramatic increase in the aging adult population and the rate of age-related dementia.

ACT on Alzheimer’s engages communities in creating and piloting strategies for addressing dementia in ways that are evidence-based, cost-effective and meet local needs. Local initiatives could eventually be replicated in other towns across the state.

At a forum last month, caregiver support and community education rose to the top as priorities in Kandiyohi County. Coalition members took that to heart Monday as they whittled down a list of possible projects into two that can be implemented between now and the end of 2015. A $10,000 grant is available to help with costs.

Narrowing down the possibilities was a challenge. Members of the coalition debated for more than an hour over how best to focus their time and energy.

Reaching out to people and connecting them with services they need remains one of the biggest issues, several coalition members said.

Kate Selseth of the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging usually refers families to the Senior LinkAge Line, 1-800-333-2433, but said many are unaware the toll-free number even exists unless someone tells them about it.

“The gap is still ‘Do people know to call the Senior LinkAge Line?’” she said.

Others spoke of the difficulty of getting families connected with the right services soon after a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, while there’s still time to make decisions and before a crisis happens.

The two projects selected by the group are seen as a start.

With more support groups and with trained volunteer educators who can be visible and active around town, the number of access points to awareness, education and services will be increased, Selseth said. “That’s really what we’re after.”

A long-term goal of the group is to create what’s known as a Memory Café, a place where people with Alzheimer’s disease, families and caregivers can gather for support and socialization with others who are living with dementia.

The Kandiyohi County ACT on Alzheimer’s group also sees future opportunities for helping educate the business community and advocating for increased training for health care professionals.

The goal is to create something that will be ongoing, Selseth said. “We want to look at starting something that’s going to be sustainable. Once you start something, people want it.”

Carruthers believes Willmar and Kandiyohi County are ready to become more dementia-capable.

During a preliminary survey to assess local needs, a hair salon owner who has many older clients told her, “We need to know more,” Carruthers said.

“I think people are going to be hungry for information. Once we get our community plan out there, I think we’re going to get lots of requests,” she said.

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.

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