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Caregiver support tops priority list of local initiative on Alzheimer’s

WILLMAR — Support for caregivers of aging adults with dementia topped a list of priorities identified at a community forum earlier this month on Alzheimer’s disease and age-related dementia.

Increased awareness and knowledge of dementia also was high on the list. Lagging a little further behind was the development of specialized health services for people with dementia.

The Willmar Area ACT on Alzheimer’s team reviewed all the findings this week and began the process of narrowing down the list into specific goals.

“Some of these may be short-term and some of them may be long-term,” Emily Farah-Miller, project director with the statewide ACT on Alzheimer’s initiative, told the group on Monday. “What’s doable? What’s a dream? It does need to come back to what you heard from your community.”

The local ACT on Alzheimer’s coalition is among more than a dozen pilot efforts in Minnesota to create dementia-capable communities that meet the needs of the thousands of aging Minnesotans who will develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of age-related dementia in the next few decades.

Backers of the project say the growing number of older adults has made it urgent for Minnesota to find better, smarter ways to address dementia and to care compassionately for these individuals and their families.

As they analyzed the feedback from the community forum June 4, members of the local team found plenty of potential projects on the wish list to consider.

The issue that rose to the top was the need to provide more support and education to families, said Andrea Carruthers, coordinator of the Willmar Area ACT on Alzheimer’s.

“We had several families say, ‘We got the diagnosis. We were in shock. We got the brochure but nothing about the next steps.’ We heard a lot from families about the crises they live with every day,” she said. “They’re worn out. They’re frazzled and they need support.”

At the forum, the team also heard about the need to promote more awareness and education about dementia, not only among families but within the business community and among health care professionals as well.

“We found we have to do a better job of marketing and building awareness in all different venues,” Carruthers said. “We need to reach out to the broad community to start with.”

Specialized health care services, with an emphasis on team care and collaboration, was the third key issue identified at the forum.

The group has a $10,000 grant to help jump-start one or two projects before the end of 2015. The goal will be to create programs that can be sustainable, Carruthers said.

“We’re looking at what’s going to have the greatest impact,” she said.

There may be some ready-to-go resources that the group can draw on, said Farah-Miller. Both the Alzheimer’s Association and the Senior LinkAge Line have toll-free hotlines that can quickly link people with a live person to talk to who can point them to services in their area, she said. If professional training — for emergency medical technicians, for instance — is a goal, there are modules available.

One of the communities participating in ACT on Alzheimer’s chose to print bookmarks listing the warning signs of Alzheimer’s, along with the Alzheimer’s Association toll-free number and other resources, Farah-Miller said. Another community opted to provide training to retailers and business owners and provided stickers to place in the window of those who completed the training.

The Willmar group will settle on one or two goals within the next month and submit its plan to the state in August. Implementation will start this fall.

Farah-Miller noted that Willmar is the sixth of 19 ACT on Alzheimer’s teams to reach this stage of activity.

“It’s our hope that as you continue this effort, businesses and organizations will see this as a worthwhile thing to invest in,” she said.

Since the forum, the size of the team has grown from about 25 to around 50 as new volunteers have signed on, Carruthers said. “It tells me that there’s a lot of interest.”

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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