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Taking ACTion on dementia, Alzheimer's; Local group to host workshops next week

BEMIDJI—A Bemidji group that has spent more than a year brainstorming ways to make the area more friendly for people who have dementia is ready to roll out its efforts.

Monday and Tuesday are Dementia Awareness Days in Bemidji, when the city's branch of ACT on Alzheimer's will launch its campaign: community workshops and TV advertisements, informative brochures and an outreach program. It's all designed to make life safer and easier for the estimated 650 people in Beltrami County living with dementia, and for their caregivers.

"It's a big problem," said Carol Priest of ACT, and caregiver advocate for Northwoods Caregivers. "People should know dementia is not a normal part of aging."

Alzheimer's and dementia (the generic name for various brain diseases) mostly affect people older than 65, robbing them of basic mental functions and, especially, their ability to remember. In Minnesota, where the percentage of elderly residents is growing, the statewide ACT on Alzheimer's initiative seeks to improve dementia-related support in 34 communities.

The workshops in Bemidji on Monday and Tuesday, presented by the Alzheimer's Association of Minnesota and North Dakota, range from identifying the signs of dementia, to developing a care plan with a doctor. Even if a person isn't directly touched by the diseases, Priest said, they could still benefit from the workshops, learning how to approach someone who might have dementia.

"Sometimes they wander off," Priest said, and no one reaches out to help. "Sometimes they're not found until deer season."

Priest said knowing what to do when someone seems lost can save a life. It's best, she said, to speak slowly, calmly and clearly when interacting with a possible dementia patient. (ACT is also working to make tracking devices, worn by dementia patients, more affordable.)

"You need to know they might not speak in full, clear sentences," she added. "They might not know the word for dragonfly."

Dementia challenges caregivers, as well, because patients become dependent.

"It's the simple things," Priest said, like deciding which public bathroom to use when a caregiver and a dementia patient are different genders. Those are the types of issues, Priest said, that this push for awareness seeks to clear up.

The ACT branch is made of volunteers. They come from groups like Northwoods Caregivers, United Methodist Church, the Minnesota Indian Area Agency on Aging, and Wisdom Steps.

The group will host two more free workshops on Oct. 28 at the Sanford Hospital focusing on how to care for someone who has dementia.

Dementia Awareness Days

Workshops are free, but participants are asked to pre-register by calling Carol Priest at (218) 333-8265, or by emailing nice@paulbunyan.net.

Monday:

8 a.m. to noon: Volunteer Community Educator Training at Prime West Health Systems in Bemidji.

6 to 7:30 p.m.: Learning the Language: Communication & Memory Loss (for caregivers) at Adult Day Services in Bemidji.

Tuesday

8 to 9 a.m. and noon to 1 p.m.: Approaching Alzheimer's (for law enforcement and first responders) at Prime West.

9:30 to 11 a.m.: Partnering with Your Doctor (for dementia patients and their caregivers) at Prime West.

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