This week, a University of Minnesota professor is launching a statewide tour to bring information on Alzheimer's disease to Minnesotans.

Joseph Gaugler, who holds an endowed chair in long-term care and aging in the university's School of Public Health, said he hopes to visit all 87 counties in the state.

"I'm not sure how long it will take," he said with a laugh. "But I wanted to visit all the counties in Minnesota — talk to people, learn their experiences about memory loss and share with them new insights about dementia and dementia care."

Gaugler's first sessions will be Thursday in Wabasha and Zumbro Falls.

Nearly 100,000 Minnesotans are living with Alzheimer's and another 250,000 are involved in the care of their loved ones, according to the Alzheimer's Association chapter for Minnesota and North Dakota. As many as 5.7 million Americans suffer from the disease. As baby boomers age, some researchers have predicted a tsunami of new cases. The problem could be especially severe in rural Minnesota, which has a much older population than the state's urban areas.

While 32 percent of Minnesotans in urban areas are age 50 and older, that number rises to 41 percent in small towns and 44 percent in rural areas of the state, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center.

Alzheimer's has no cure. Gaugler said the most important things for caregivers to know about are the resources available to help them.

"Knowing about resources is a good first step," he said. "Resources may be geographically disparate from where people live, so how do we access those resources?"

Gaugler plans to coordinate his visits with local Area Agencies on Aging and county social services providers. "We definitely want to work hand in hand with the local people," he said.

He'll run through the 10 warning signs of Alzheimer's and discuss the latest research into possible causes.

There is a genetic link to Alzheimer's, Gaugler said, but Alzheimer's in the family tree doesn't necessarily mean that a person will get it. Lifestyle issues are believed to play a role in the onset of Alzheimer's, he said; researchers have established that obesity and heart problems can be contributing factors.

John Reinan • 612-673-7402