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Health care leaders discuss dementia friendly options

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Tri-County Health Care President/CEO Joel Beiswenger participated in a meeting with other health care providers in Wadena as the community works to become dementia friendly. Anna Erickson/Pioneer Journal

Wadena is seeking input from the community to create a dementia friendly culture.

Local health care leaders, politicians and members of the community met to discuss options to reach that goal.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates there are 91,000 Minnesotans age 65 and older with Alzheimer's disease and thousands more with other dementias. The disease also touches nearly 250,000 family members and friends who are caregivers.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar made a quick stop in Wadena to sit with local leaders to discuss healthcare issues.

One need is more healthcare workers, she said.

"We need to match students to the jobs that are available," she said.

Klobuchar also acknowledged that long term care is the "real elephant in the room" and that additional options for home care, respite and hospice are needed.

Wadena is one of more than 45 action communities throughout the state taking steps to create a dementia friendly culture, which is informed, safe and respectful of people living with dementia and their families; provides supportive features community-wide; and fosters quality of life for everyone.

As a response to this reality, Wadena is using a community toolkit with support from the Central Minnesota Council on Aging to conduct interviews to assess current strengths and gaps in meeting needs related to Alzheimer's.

Andrea Craig, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner with Tri-County Health Care, said she has worked with people who have dementia for many years. Her father-in-law had Alzheimer's and her family dealt with many issues associated with his disease.

"Now we're concerned with hereditary factors," she said.

Part of the dementia friendly community grant involves gathering stories from people who have dealt with dementia and Alzheimer's in their families and among friends.

Cindy Pederson and Heidi Happel, with Wadena County Public Health, are organizing a community meeting to receive input on specific actions that can be taken.

An education and awareness piece is part of the action plan being worked on in the community. Support groups are another part of the plan.

Wadena County's aging population and low income demographics were also discussed. Having affordable healthcare options is an important part of the solution, several attendees said.

According to meeting organizers, every part of Wadena can take steps to create a dementia friendly community, such as:

• Businesses that train employees on interacting with customers who appear to have memory loss issues.

• Clinics that promote early diagnosis of Alzheimer's and provide care and support options.

• Faith communities that welcome and engage people living with dementia and their families.

• Residential settings that offer services and activities adapted for memory loss issues.

To learn more about the work on this project and how to get involved, contact Heidi Happel at Wadena County Public Health, (218) 631-7629 or heidi.happel@co.wadena.mn.us.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561
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