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MN Town ACTS on Alzheimer's with "Dementia-Friendly" Businesses

PHOTO: In cities like Willmar, Walker, Forest Lake and St. Louis Park, efforts are underway to make their communities more supportive of those with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Photo credit: Abdulsalam Haykal
PHOTO: In cities like Willmar, Walker, Forest Lake and St. Louis Park, efforts are underway to make their communities more supportive of those with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Photo credit: Abdulsalam Haykal
January 8, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. - As Minnesota's population continues to age at a rapid pace, so does the number of people with dementia. That has some communities taking action now to set up supports.

Olivia Mastry, executive lead at ACT on Alzheimer's, said seven towns and cities already are in the early stages of becoming "dementia-friendly" - including Walker, where businesses now can earn that designation "so that people who are using services and businesses can feel safe going in, knowing that people will understand if they have the disease, or if they're with a loved one that needs special support because they have the disease. So, 'dementia friendly' designation is one thing they're doing."

In Minnesota, 100,000 people currently live with Alzheimer's and related dementias, and that number is expected to grow by about 40 percent over the next decade.

To help expand the efforts, Mastry said, ACT on Alzheimer's will provide seed money for other Minnesota communities to increase support for those with dementia, most of whom want to stay in their homes and remain independent as long as possible.

"We're really trying to galvanize communities to come together and collectively support people with this disease," she said. "But also, in doing that, they're going to collectively strengthen their own community infrastructure to support all their residents, especially moving towards 'age-friendliness' in addition to 'dementia-friendliness.' "

Since this issue has such a wide impact, ACT on Alzheimer's has more than 60 partners statewide. They include AARP of Minnesota, where communications director Seth Boffeli explained that this initiative is among the first of its kind in the nation.

"When you look at efforts to really restructure not only our communities but our hospital systems, our care-giving networks, to support a disease like Alzheimer's, this is really unique to Minnesota," he said. "There's only a couple places in this country where this type of work is going on."

Nationally, more than 5 million people have Alzheimer's disease, and a new case is diagnosed every 68 seconds.

More info on ACT on Alzheimer's in Minnesota is online at actonalz.org. Alzheimer's data for the United States is at alz.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN