CRAWFORD COUNTY - As our communities continue to age, the diagnosis of dementia is becoming more common, according to health officials familiar with the situation.
The large and rapidly aging Baby Boom generation–combined with the fact that all Americans are now living longer may be producing ‘a silent tsunami,’ many fear.
While Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia have existed for many years, their prominence as a major health problem in the United States is a more recent phenomenon. Longer life expectancy means more cases of dementia, a disease characterized by deterioration of the brain in elderly adults.
It is estimated that over 50 percent of those who are over 85 years of age have dementia.
In Wisconsin,dementia currently affects over 117,000 individuals across the state. By 2040, this number is expected grow to over 242,000.
It is estimated that there are currently 400 to 450 people living with dementia in Crawford County. By 2040, that number is projected to be 778. However, those familiar with the estimates believe the number is probably higher, because those in the initial stages of dementia often go undiagnosed.
Amidst this rather frightening news, hope springs from efforts to raise awareness of dementia and with that increased awareness create a more supportive environment for those suffering from the disease. Statewide, there is a ‘dementia friendly’ effort underway.
Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of all dementia, is in fact a fatal disease. Alzheimer’s has seven defined stages–beginning as an almost asymptomatic onset moving to short-term memory loss and progressing through increasingly more impactful symptoms like being unable to remember simple life skills, like getting dressed. In its final stage, Alzheimer’s can cause patients to be unable to swallow or even breathe.
However, if the disease is identified in its early stages those who suffer from it and their families can prepare for its onslaught. Powers of attorney for healthcare and finances can be arranged. Families and patients can learn what to expect and make accommodations.
Medications can help manage symptoms, but none will cure the disease or stop it from progressing.
In the past, those who suffered from dementia often went undiagnosed and their strange behavior brought on by the deepening of the disease was written off to ‘going crazy’ and ‘senility.’ Dementia had a stigma. Those days are behind us and the watchword now is to be ‘dementia friendly.’
Healthcare workers are busy helping to create dementia friendly communities and dementia friendly businesses. The idea is to educate the public so they can recognize and assist members of the community suffering from dementia.
These efforts are underway in Crawford County and a lot of the work is being led by the Aging and Disability Resource Center. Crawford County and three other counties are part of consortium known as ADRC of Eagle Country. This ADRC received a grant to hire a Dementia Care Specialist about six months ago.
Gina Laack is a Mauston resident, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a degree in social work and worked in a nursing home for seven-and-half years. Last year, she became the ADRC’s Dementia Care Specialist.
“The Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC) of Eagle Country is very fortunate to have Gina Laack, a Dementia Care Specialist in our region,” said Roby Fuller, the Director of the Crawford County ADRC of Eagle Country. “We were one of five ADRCs in the state of Wisconsin awarded this grant in 2018. Gina started with our agency in July of 2018 and has done a tremendous job of building relationships and getting out into the communities. This upcoming information session being held in both Soldiers Grove and Gays Mills is just that–information sharing.”
Gina Laack explained the position was created at former Governor Scott Walker’s direction in 2014. It was designed as a way to deal with the increased cost of care for the growing number of dementia sufferers in the state’s nursing homes. One goal was to help people remain in their homes and receive care in that setting.
A lot of progress has already been made in the Prairie du Chien area of Crawford County around raising awareness of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Laack is spearheading an effort to involve the community and health care providers.
The local dementia care specialist is now ready to bring this effort to the rural areas of northern Crawford County. Two presentations in the area are planned. Both will be hosted by the local public libraries. The Gays Mills Public Library will host the first presentation on Friday, March 1 from 1 to 2 p.m. The Soldiers Grove Public Library will host the second presentation on Thursday, March 7 from 1 to 2 p.m.
These sessions are for anyone diagnosed with dementia, providing care for someone with dementia or for anyone who is interested in becoming dementia friendly personally or as a business.
“We’re ready to focus on northern Crawford County,” Laack said. “We recognize there’s a lot of momentum in the Prairie du Chien area. We want to spread it out and reach the smaller communities. We want to make them aware of the resources we can provide.”
“Our county has several exciting events and opportunities coming up in regards to learning about dementia and the support of caregivers,” Fuller explained. “We wanted to take the opportunity to make sure that all areas of our county are getting the information they need to feel supported in taking care of loved ones and having the appropriate information on where to get services for them.”
At the upcoming events planned for the Gays Mills Library on March 1 and the Soldiers Grove Library on March 7, there will be plenty of information provided about dementia.
Dementia Care Specialist Gina Laack plans to begin with the basics of dementia–what it is and isn’t.
“There’s a common misconception that ‘it’s Alzheimer’s but not dementia’,” Laack said. “That’s just not true.”
Alzheimer’s disease is one of about 100 types of dementia. However, Alzheimer’s accounts for about 60 to 80 percent of the dementia cases.
“There’s just so much more to it than memory loss,” Laack added.
At the event, the dementia care specialist will review the signs and symptoms of the disease.
There will also be a portion of the presentation dedicated to learning how to communicate with those suffering from dementia.
A large part of the information session will also focus on the resources that are available in Crawford County for those in need of them.
“These information sessions are open to all individuals that are wanting to learn more about the disease and the resources that are available,” Crawford County ADRC Director Roby Fuller said.
To learn more about the information sessions, please call the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Eagle Country Prairie du Chien office at 608-326-0235.