Dementia-Friendly effort launched in Duluth

Duluth News Tribune

An effort to make Duluth a friendlier place for people with dementia will start by assessing businesses and faith communities on the eastern side of town, organizers said on Tuesday. But the initiative, known as Dementia Friendly Duluth, is for the entire city, they said.

“We are, eventually, tackling all of Duluth and some of the components are already across Duluth,” said Mimi Stender, coordinator of the effort for the nonprofit community health agency known as The Victory Fund. “It’s actually happening all over.”

Dementia Friendly Duluth was unveiled during a City Hall news conference at which purple — the color for Alzheimer’s disease — was the predominant color: purple ties, purple scarfs, posters designed in purple and white. It was sparked in the spring with the announcement that Duluth had earned a modest grant from ACT on Alzheimer’s, a statewide collaborative that encourages communities to respond in positive ways to individuals afflicted with Alzheimer’s or non-Alzheimer’s dementia.

The Victory Fund in Duluth and Northwoods Partners in Ely became ACT on Alzheimer’s award winners at that time. Previously in Northeastern Minnesota, the East Range, Cloquet and International Falls were designated as ACT on Alzheimer’s communities. Statewide, 48 communities and organizations are part of the effort, which began in 2009. The ensuing months have been devoted to developing the local coalition, said Kathy Heimbach, executive director of The Victory Fund. Stender, a veteran community organizer, was brought on to coordinate the project and 19 organizations — from city and county departments to the two hospitals and other nonprofits to higher-education institutions to Republic Bank — got on board.

The process will begin soon with volunteers contacting businesses and institutions east of 21st Avenue East, Stender said. They’ll ask to arrange a time to meet with key people to try to understand what the needs are in terms of people with dementia.

“So we’ll be able to identify what kind of education, what kind of training, what kinds of awareness activities we can do,” she said. “And beyond that we’ll go deeper. Are there other needs? Do restaurants have needs to be provided with support so they can have a space, for example, for caregivers and persons with dementia to come and feel safe?”

Next spring, the results will be analyzed and a plan put into action, Stender said.

“The action plan is not going to be: Let’s get this done this year,” she said. “The action plan will be: What can we do in a year, what can we do in two years, what can we do in five? And then we’ll constantly be changing that over time and modifying it to meet the needs.”

Barring discovery of a cure, the need is expected to increase in coming years, speakers at the news conference said. Every day for the next 18 years, 10,000 Americans will reach age 65, said Ann Forrest-Clark, an occupational therapist and certified driving rehabilitation specialist at St. Luke’s hospital.

In the U.S., 1 in 9 people older than 65 have Alzheimer’s, Stender said — and 1 in 3 who are older than 85.

The cost of the disease is projected to be more than $1 trillion in the U.S. by 2050, said Steve Waring of the Essentia Institute for Rural Health. He put in a plea for research funding.

“There’s an urgent need for us right now to quadruple our funding by the year 2025 for Alzheimer’s and non-Alzheimer’s dementia,” Waring said.

Alzheimer’s research funding lags behind research dollars for cancer, cardiovascular diseases and AIDS, he said.

“The cost of Alzheimer’s disease is much more than the cost of these other diseases,” Waring said.

In the meantime, organizers of Dementia Friendly Duluth know they’re likely to be responding to Alzheimer’s and non-Alzheimer’s dementia for some time to come, Heimbach said.

“We’re going to be dealing with this for a long time,” she said. “It will take time, and we need to be able to sustain it. … We will make it a success, one neighborhood at a time.”