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Alzheimer’s organization promotes year-round support, outreach

About 500 people walk Oct. 10 in the annual Walk to End Alzheimer’s at Robbins Island in Willmar. This year’s event will be Oct. 1. (FILE | TRIBUNE)

WILLMAR — Communities across the region are being urged to go purple this summer — no, not in honor of Prince but to support the Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Organizers hope the outreach won’t be limited to a one-time event, though. They want it to be the start of a long-term effort to build regional awareness, knowledge and resources that help ease the path for families dealing with the struggles and heartaches of dementia.

“The disease is so isolating. The hope is to break down walls and open communication,” said Katrice Sisson, community engagement manager with the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota-North Dakota.

The Go Purple campaign, featuring the signature color of the Alzheimer’s Association, will be held with the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Oct. 1 in Willmar. This year the walk has been expanded into a regional event to underscore the need for a broader approach to dementia. The goal is to raise $75,000 for research and services.

Organizers of the walk also are seeking nominations for honorary families whose stories can put a human face on dementia.

“We want to show how people are affected and then connect everybody,” Sisson said.

There’s already a lot happening to increase education and services, said local advocate Andrea Carruthers.

But there’s much more that can be done, from connecting newly diagnosed individuals with the right resources to supporting family caregivers, she said.

People often are so overwhelmed by the disease that “they don’t know where to start,” she said. “It shouldn’t be that difficult but it is.”

There’s urgency. As the huge baby boom generation ages, the number of older adults with dementia is expected to swell significantly, placing an increasing strain on existing systems of care.

Awareness campaigns are commonplace for dozens of diseases and conditions but dementia is especially in need of public awareness, say organizers of the west central Walk to End Alzheimer’s.

Because it typically doesn’t strike until later in life, it often doesn’t register in many people’s consciousness, they said. Many families don’t know how to recognize the early signs of dementia. As the disease progresses, it gradually robs individuals of their ability to live independently, with implications for everything from caregiving to finances to end-of-life decisions.

The disease can span “many many years,” said Linda Madsen of the Walk to End Alzheimer’s committee. “Think of the cost and the strain on families.”

Committee members also point to the stigma surrounding dementia, although they note this is lessening, leading to more open conversations about services, options for care and how communities can respond to dementia.

ACT on Alzheimer’s, a pilot project that has since been wrapped into the West Central Dementia Awareness Network, spent much of last year conducting community education for congregations, employers, service organizations and the public, with a goal of creating a more dementia-competent community.

“I think the more we do that, the better,” Carruthers said. “It’s a cultural shift. I think there’s a comfort level that’s developing.”

The Go Purple campaign this summer is an effort to widen the circle, Sisson said. Towns can choose a day or a week sometime between now and the end of September and do something with purple — paint storefronts purple, create purple retail displays, wear purple for a day, distribute purple ribbons or whatever creative idea they can come up with, she said.

“Really, the possibilities are endless,” Sisson said. “It’s whatever they want to do and are comfortable with.”

Organizers of the walk hope to draw 600 people on Oct. 1, an increase of more than 15 percent over last year.

“We seem to grow it every year,” Carruthers said. “There’s a realization that I’m not walking this path alone. It’s very uplifting.”

Organizers seek families to share their experiences

WILLMAR — Nominations are being sought for honorary families to represent the face of dementia Oct. 1 at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s of West Central Minnesota.

Committee members are looking for families with stories that are inspiring and that demonstrate courage, love and resilience.

Nominees can live anywhere in west central Minnesota.

Each family that receives a nomination will be honored at the Walk to End Alzheimer’s Oct. 1 at Robbins Island Park in Willmar.

Nominations can be submitted to Katrice Sisson, community engagement manager with the Alzheimer’s Association of Minnesota-North Dakota, ksisson@alz.org.

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Alzheimer’s walk promotes support, awareness

Anne Polta

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

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