Towns retrofit for aging needs

  • Article by: JEREMY OLSON HEALTH
  • Updated: July 26, 2014 - 3:00 PM

Up in cabin country, store owners in Walker, Minn., are reorganizing shops so they are easier for customers with Alzheimer’s disease and age-related dementia.

They are teaching salespeople how to cater to customers with memory problems, decluttering walkways to reduce stress and expanding dressing rooms for people who need the help of personal caregivers.

Walker is one of 32 Minnesota communities receiving grants from ACT on Alzheimer’s, an advocacy group that was created to prepare the state for the increasing burden of Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia.

When finished, the businesses will get “dementia-friendly’’ signs for their front windows,” said Emily Farah-Miller, project director for ACT on Alzheimer’s. “They really felt strongly about some visual recognition,” she said, “so the customers and their families would feel comfortable entering that business.”

An estimated 88,000 Minnesotans age 65 and older already live with dementia, which affects memory and critical thinking skills, and that number is expected to skyrocket in the next two decades.

“You can imagine what could happen in a community that isn’t prepared to support people with this disease.” Farah-Miller said.

Blue Plus, the Medica Foundation and Greater Twin Cities United Way provided the funding, much of which is dedicated to training.

In other grants, rabbis in the Twin Cities and first responders in Cambridge are learning how best to support people with dementia and their families. In Northfield, one goal is to add a lesson on dementia to the local public school curriculum.

Other changes are more tangible. Volunteers in Willmar are planning a “memory cafe” where people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers can go for socialization and respite. Such an approach has already proven popular in Roseville.

“Soon it could become more of a normal kind of thing,” said Patricia Vincent, a volunteer ACT organizer in Northfield, “that people are going to have to deal with as our numbers increase.”

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