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Building a dementia-friendly community: New task force is developing plan

Key community leaders plan to make Park Rapids a more welcoming place for those with dementia.

They have formed an ACTION Park Rapids team to raise awareness about dementia, support caregivers and provide educational resources and training to community members.

Representatives from Living at Home, CHI St. Joseph's Health, Essentia Clinic, the Park Rapids Library, Land of Dancing Sky, Park Rapids Community Education, Knute Nelson and others convened last week. Plans are underway to reach out to law enforcement, healthcare providers, businesses, the faith community, youth and more.

Nearly 60 percent of people with Alzheimer's live in their own homes and need support from families and community members.

The team is using an evidence-based community toolkit to assess dementia-related strengths and gaps with the community, identify goals and develop 90-day action plans to respond.

How are communities affected by dementia?

Dementia is a term to describe the symptoms of more than 100 conditions characterized by a decline in memory or other thinking skills. Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia.

According to the Alzheimer's Association, approximately 91,000 Minnesotans live with the disease and that number is growing. One in nine people over the age 65 has Alzheimer's. About one-third of people age 85 and older have it.

The annual number of new cases of Alzheimer's and other dementias of people over age 65 is projected to triple by 2050.

Young onset Alzheimer's, occurring in people under age 65, is also on the rise.

Older African-Americans and Hispanics are proportionately more likely than older white people to have Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.

As more and more Minnesotans live with Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, the costs and challenges can be overwhelming for them, their families, their communities and the state.

The cost of caring for people with Alzheimer's and other dementias is estimated to total $236 billion in 2016, increasing to $1.1 trillion (in today's dollars) by 2050.

Nearly 250,000 Minnesotans care for family members with Alzheimer's disease. These caregivers provide 284 million hours of unpaid care, valued at $3.4 billion yearly.

The physical and emotional impact on caregivers results in $10.2 billion in increased health care costs annually, including $174 million for Minnesota caregivers.

Awareness about the signs and symptoms of dementia, for example, equips a community to support these vulnerable adults and their caregivers.

What is a dementia-friendly community?

A dementia-friendly community is informed, safe and respectful of people living with dementia and their families, has supportive features across all community sectors, and fosters quality of life for everyone.

Examples include businesses that train employees on interacting with customers who have dementia, clinics that promote early diagnosis of Alzheimer's or faith communities that welcome and engage people living with dementia.

The ACT on Alzheimer's Dementia-Friendly Communities Toolkit guides communities through a research-informed process that fosters adoption of dementia-friendly practices in all parts of a community. The toolkit is designed to be flexible and adaptable to a community's needs.

Its four steps are aimed at community readiness:

• Phase 1: Convene key community leaders and members to understand dementia and its implications for your community. Then, form an Action Team.

• Phase 2: Assess current community strengths and gaps concerning dementia.

• Phase 3: Analyze the community assessment findings and determine action priorities for the community.

• Phase 4: Create a community action plan and take action community-wide to become dementia friendly.

For more information or to get involved, contact Connie Carmichael, executive director, Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area at 732-3137.

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