Grant will help Park Rapids LAH combat stigma of memory loss

Plans include a resource guide, a trilogy of plays and a guest speaker specializing in education about memory care.

Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area has received a grant to promote a "dementia friendly community" in the area. Working at 120 Main Ave. N. are executive director Connie Carmichael and Dementia Friendly Community coordinator Betsy Meyer. (Robin Fish/Enterprise)

Thanks to a $49,000 grant from the Minnesota Board on Aging, a local push to make Park Rapids a “dementia friendly community” will soon show concrete results.

Connie Carmichael, executive director of Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area, and Betsy Meyer, the agency’s dementia friendly communities coordinator, talked recently about what LAH plans to do with the state grant, which must be spent by June 30, 2021.

“We have quite a lofty to-do list,” said Carmichael.

The first step was bringing Meyer on board at the end of July. But the work really started a couple years ago at an ACTION Park Rapids meeting.

“There was a group of us talking about seniors and Alzheimer’s and dementia, and it snowballed from there,” said Carmichael. “We had a really diverse action team from representatives of a lot of different sectors within the community.”


What does this mean?

Meyer said a dementia friendly community means, first, “offering awareness for communities about what people who are experiencing memory loss are going through, how they behave or act in a public setting.”

Second, she said, it’s about “offering resources for caregivers, tools, places to go for information, support groups, all kinds of information – also for people who are experiencing memory loss, if they have the capacity to want to know more.”

She said dementia friendly communities already exist across Minnesota and the U.S. – for example, Winona and Walker.

“They have been able to provide great insight for us,” said Meyer. “We’re reaching out to them and other communities who have already gone through this beginning process, and they’re helping us along the way.”

Why is this needed?

“We did a survey a couple years ago with various community members, and also professionals in the community, retail workers,” said Meyer. “That survey indicated, throughout all the sectors, that while people were aware that dementia, or memory loss, is out there, they did not know where to turn for resources.

Carmichael said the goal of a dementia friendly community is “to reduce the stigma that comes with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or another dementia.”

There’s a perception, she said, that memory loss is something to be embarrassed about – but actually, “it’s no different than any kind of a cancer diagnosis or a heart condition. It’s a medical condition.”

Memory loss can come out in many different ways, she said. For example, the diagnosed person or caregiver may become socially isolated.


“Sometimes they’re embarrassed about certain things that happen when they’re out and about,” said Carmichael. “Reaching out and letting even their close family and friends know of a memory loss diagnosis is really scary for people.

“One of our main goals is to reduce that stigma by raising awareness and educating our community about what it is, and how we can all help. The other thing is to provide resources to people.”

How will this happen?

To start, Meyer said, “We will be creating sort of a ‘one stop shop’ website, affiliated with the Living at Home website.” This will include links to resources available locally, statewide or at the national level for those experiencing memory loss and their caregivers.

They’re also planning a series of events from October into spring, she said. These include a series of three memory loss-focused plays produced by the Remember Project, funded through the Minnesota Arts Council. Park Rapids is one of only five communities statewide chosen to present these plays.

“Gosh, it’s going to be super exciting,” said Carmichael. “We’ve been attending virtual launch conferences to get this going, and the plays are really impactful.”

Meyer said at least the first two plays will be presented virtually, and information will be sent out soon about how to sign up to view them.

“We are also hoping to bring in Teepa Snow and her team, to provide great education on memory loss,” said Meyer. “We’ll do that in the springtime. Again, that’ll be virtual.”

Snow, who founded Positive Approach to Care, is an occupational therapist specializing in education about memory care.


Also, Meyer said, LAH will soon publish a local resource guide for memory loss issues, in both hard copy and online.

What comes next?

Although the initial state grant runs out on June 30, Meyer said, “This is going to be ongoing. Now that we have the momentum, and the ball is rolling, we’re going to keep it rolling.”

“We’re already raising funds so that we can keep the momentum going, not only now but long into the future,” said Carmichael, “because science tells us that Alzheimer’s diagnoses are just going to keep increasing over time, until they find a cure.”

She said that according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 35 percent of Hubbard County’s population is 65 or older. “That’s one of the highest counties in the state, for our aging population.”

“People are choosing to retire here,” said Meyer.

“They might not have been born and raised here, but our community is so beautiful, and people want to retire here,” Carmichael agreed. “So, they move here … and a lot of times, their loved ones are in different states or in bigger cities all over the state.”

Meanwhile, she said, Hubbard County demographics suggest that “right around 700 people in our community right now are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Roughly 100 of those are solos, living alone, with no caregiver other than maybe from afar.”

Those people, she said, need to know that help and resources are out there.


How is it going?

“Armed with grant dollars (and the) stakeholders that we’ve pulled together, good work is happening,” said Meyer. “We feel like, soon, we are ready to bring more information about memory loss awareness to this community, which is going to benefit everyone, eventually.

“It’s our hope to reach the community at large, not just caregivers and those they are caring for, but also the various sectors – law enforcement, faith partners, retail and business, health care workers and providers. You name it. We want to reach everyone, and we feel like we are in a position to do that.”

Carmichael voiced excitement to see progress toward that goal.

Even without the grant, she said, “I think we would have been able to do a lot of what, in our heads, we wanted to do. It would have just taken a lot longer without funding.”

It has been a team effort, she said. “It’s everybody working together in communication that’s going to make this really great for our community and our residents, and those that are caregiving and living with dementia.”

Dementia Friendly Community stakeholders

In addition to Living at Home of the Park Rapids Area, executive director Connie Carmichael credits the following organizations and individuals with working on the ACTION Park Rapids action team to bring a Dementia Friendly Community to the Park Rapids area.

  • CHI St. Joseph’s Health

  • Essentia Health

  • Sanford Health

  • Alzheimer’s Association – Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter

  • Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging

  • Knute Nelson

  • Wellness Matters

  • Heritage Communities

  • Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center

  • Heartland Lakes Development Commission

  • Park Rapids Community Education

  • Park Rapids Library

  • Representatives of the local faith community

  • County Commissioner Dan Stacey

  • Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes

  • Park Rapids Police Chief Jeff Appel

  • Laurel Hed, geriatric care manager with the TSZ Law Office

  • Five caregivers (spouses and children) of those diagnosed and living with memory loss

  • Bill Steen, Florence Hedeen, Renee Brauer, Rod Nordberg, Nancy Hall, Nick and Nadine Paplow and Jean Ruzicka

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at or 218-252-3053.
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