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Making Blackduck ‘dementia friendly’

BLACKDUCK -- Cindy Swedberg hopes to make Blackduck an easier place to live for people with dementia.

She and organizers with Northwoods Caregivers and the Alzheimer’s Association have scheduled a mid-December “Dementia Friends” meeting to help residents learn what dementia is, how to recognize its signs, and, hopefully, how to smooth interactions with people who suffer from the disease.

“There tends to be a really big isolation factor because people don't know how to react to the disease and to the people that have it and the people that care for them,” Swedberg, whose mom had dementia, said.

A waiter at a restaurant, for instance, could have trouble taking an order from a customer with dementia because they might describe a sandwich with beef, cheese, lettuce, and tomato if they struggle to remember “hamburger.” A dementia sufferer might ask for one dish and mean another or simply walk out without paying.

“There's a lot of people that just -- they're very uncomfortable. They don't know what to do,” Swedberg explained. “And therefore that translates into them maybe not interacting with that person.”

Dementia Friends recommends strategies such as smiling warmly, speaking clearly, listening closely, and encouraging a possible dementia patient as they try to communicate. The organization also recommends that businesses use simple, well-lit, and clearly marked physical spaces.

Swedberg said the meeting can be for anyone, not just people who know or care for a dementia patient.

“I think almost everybody knows of somebody. They may not be aware that they know somebody with dementia, but I bet they do,” she added. Some people might have dementia that hasn’t become a problem yet, and others who have it might try to hide it, Swedberg explained.

The meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 14, at the Restaurant71 in Blackduck.

Dementia isn’t a specific disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Instead, it’s a broader term used to describe a range of symptoms like cognitive impairment. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80 percent of dementia cases, according to the association.

If you go:

What: Dementia Friends informational event

When: 4-5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14

Where: Restaurant71, 240 Summit Ave. W, Blackduck

Joe Bowen

Joe Bowen covers education and health for the Bemidji Pioneer.

He is a Minneapolis native and a 2009 graduate of St. John's University. Before moving to Bemidji, Bowen covered education, local politics, crime, and everything in between for the Perham Focus in Perham, Minnesota, and Sun Newspapers in suburban Minneapolis.

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