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Age-related dementia will be the focus of workshops next week in Renville and Willmar

WILLMAR — The journey through age-related dementia is different for everyone, but Renita Thonvold and Mary Laib see one thing in common: Almost everyone benefits from gaining practical tools and information.

“It’s very difficult to do a job if we don’t have the tools or the skills,” said Thonvold.

Providing people with help to navigate their way through memory loss is the goal of a pair of workshops this coming Tuesday in Olivia and Willmar.

The Renville County Dementia Awareness Network will host an afternoon session at 1 p.m. at the Renville County Office Building.

The workshop will be repeated at 5 p.m. at Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar, where it is sponsored by the West Central Dementia Awareness Network.

Thonvold and Laib will speak at both events on “Dementia: The Many Faces and Phases.”

The two women have 70 years of combined experience with the Minnesota Department of Human Services and now work as consultants in the field of dementia, Thonvold as a registered nurse and Laib as an occupational therapist.

They will give an overview of the various types of age-related dementia, the stages of the disease and some of the most recent research findings.

But much of their presentation will concentrate on issues drawn from real life: the everyday scenarios and challenges faced by families dealing with age-related memory loss and how to find workable solutions.

“We’ve walked along with many families,” said Thonvold. “Many times they’re at a loss.”

In the early stages, it can be difficult to distinguish whether an older adult’s memory lapses are normal or the beginning of the slide into dementia, she said. As symptoms progress, families and caregivers must cope with the pain and worry of physical, emotional and behavioral changes in their loved one.

For most, it’s unfamiliar territory. There are general changes in cognitive and overall functioning that can be anticipated at each stage, however.

“We know it progresses. It’s like any other disease process,” Thonvold said. Knowing this can help remove some of the stigma and fear of the unknown, she said. “It can dispel some of the myths.”

In their work with clients, Thonvold said she and Laib start by learning the person’s life story — who they are, what their experiences have been, their physical and social well-being, their values. With this knowledge, they then can craft a plan that focuses on the entire family and their circle of support.

How families travel through Alzheimer’s disease is different for everyone, Thonvold said. “There are just so many more options. There’s no right or wrong pathway.”

Lori Petersen of the West Central Dementia Awareness Network said she hopes area families can attend the event either in Olivia or in Willmar.

“We know that memory loss is all around us,” she said. “Sometimes people say, ‘Oh, it doesn’t really affect me right now.’ But it will.”

The West Central Dementia Awareness Network has been hosting two community workshops each year for the past two years and will bring in a national speaker for another event in October, Petersen said.

“I know that people will benefit if they come,” she said. “The better educated we become, the better equipped we can be to help make it better for people.”

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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