Eau Claire Co. building a dementia-friendly community

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – Eau Claire County was among 26 counties chosen in Wisconsin to take steps towards building a dementia-friendly community.

The State Department of Health’s Bureau of Aging and Disability Resources gave the county a grant to provide a dementia care specialist. Lisa Wells, the options counselor at the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Eau Claire Co., will be the county’s specialist. Well will be holding training sessions with businesses that want to become dementia-friendly.

On Tuesday, a meeting was held at the Chamber building in Eau Claire, inviting businesses that wanted to learn more about what it takes to be dementia-friendly certified.

Among the businesses interested was Eau Claire’s YMCA. Aquatic director Beck Adamski oversees around 50 lifeguards who work with active older adults at the Y. She said it’s her staff that sometimes sees the first signs of memory loss in their members.
She said around 12 percent of its members are ‘active older adults.’

“I know sometimes there's confusion on the days of the week, times of the class or they're very surprised if the schedule has changed,” said Adamski. “They like routine and if there’s a chance we don’t publicize it to them, they can easily forget.”

Adamski said the staff and other department at the Y want to train with Wells in the coming months.

“We know from Y of USA, they're encouraging us to be more proactive in recruiting active older adults and obviously that will deal with issues of dementia so we want to be prepared for the onslaught of baby boomers to come to the Y,” she said.

But it’s not just the older adults that face dementia. Wells said around 1,828 people have Alzheimer’s disease. Statewide, 120,000 people live with the disease. The numbers don’t take into account the 69 other types of dementia. She said people in their 40s, 50s and 60s also see symptoms of memory loss.

Wells said changes are, you or somebody you know are living with Alzheimer’s disease.

“It’s going to affect their employees, maybe some of the people that work for that business is going to get that disease, some of the employees may be caregiving for somebody with the disease. But also, they'll be having customers that come into the business that have the disease,” said Wells.

She said it’s all about educating and creating awareness, which begins with a 30 minute session with her through the Aging and Disability Resource Center. There is no cost. Wells said all it takes is the time from the employees for the half hour training. They would learn about signs and symptoms of dementia, learn to recognize people who have dementia, gain communication skills that will help people with dementia feel safe and even make physical changes to the environment of their business.

“Looking at do they have family restrooms, looking at the signage, do they have benches, do they have chairs,” said Wells.

Paula Gibson with Azura Memory Care said the physical environment of a business or how an employee reacts to someone who is confused or experiencing symptoms of memory loss is an important part of being dementia-friendly.

“We take our residents out into the community and there have been many times where we've gone to a certain restaurant and got really poor service because of who we are caring for, not because the restaurant itself. They don’t understand our residents need more time to order, they need smaller selections,” said Gibson.

Businesses where aisles are very tight or a lot of products are around can be overwhelming to people with memory loss. Gibson also said signs or labels that are much bigger and physically stick out from the wall are helpful.

If businesses become dementia-friendly certified, Wells said they will receive a certificate that can be displayed at their business. They will also get a window cling for their door or window.

Carrie Molke is the bureau director for the Bureau of Gaining and Disability Resources for the Department of Health. She said Eau Claire County will serve as an example for other counties working towards becoming dementia-friend. She said people living with dementia should be able to continue their lives and do the normal things they always did like go to local restaurants, libraries, the bank or the mall.

Besides providing a dementia care specialist to help businesses become dementia-friendly, there’s a bigger picture to the effort.

“It includes working with hospitals and clinics, it also includes working with caregivers as well and supporting them in ways that are helpful, offering memory screens which is something that also helps identify people early in the process so we can work with them to put in place needed services. We also have a significant effort to look at facility based care and insuring that both nursing homes and assisted living facilities have the support that they need to insure that staff are adequately trained to provide dementia care,” said Molke.

If a crisis does happen, she Molke said the county should provide a place for people to receive the care and support. Law enforcement would also be encouraged to learn how to deal with some of the challenging behaviors associated with dementia, she said.

Gibson said if someone looks confused or lost, get involved.
“A lot of times what happens is, we don't want to get involved. But truly, being part of a community is being involved and being willing to help your fellow man or woman get out of whatever situation they're in and so stopping and saying, ‘can I help you’, is not being intrusive. It’s actually helping,” said Gibson.

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