Initiative underway for Prairie du Chien to become dementia-friendly community

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Becky DeBuhr, an outreach specialist with the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, gave a “Train the Trainer” presentation Nov. 17 to Prairie du Chien area business and organization representatives interested in making the community more dementia-friendly. (Photo by Correne Martin)

A recent “Train the Trainer” event focused on community stakeholders who will approach local businesses and organizations to provide awareness on Alzheimer’s and other diseases that cause dementia. (Submitted photo)

By Correne Martin

Prairie du Chien has set out on a grassroots initiative to become a dementia-friendly community (DFC), the first in Crawford County. Through a task force led by the Aging and Disability Resource Center, the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, community and business members, a “Train the Trainer” presentation kicked off this endeavor Nov. 17 at the Crawford County Administration Building, where about 25 local leaders were educated about how to recognize and address someone who may be struggling with memory challenges.

“Our goal is to help this community support this initiative and shift away from the end-stage vision we all have (of those dealing with dementia), because 70 percent of these people are living and functioning in our communities in the early stages of such diseases,” explained Becky DeBuhr, an outreach specialist with the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, who presented the training materials.

The recently trained individuals—representing the city, school district, county health, UW-Extension, grocery stores, retail shops, insurance companies, nursing homes, banks, restaurants, industry and colleges in the area—can now go out into the community and train other businesses and staff who need to recognize, understand, respect, communicate and engage with citizens who face challenges due to dementia. By achieving community-wide support of this initiative and teaching people to interact better with those having memory and thinking difficulties, men and women with dementia will feel more welcomed, included and involved. A better quality of life for the growing numbers of people with dementia is the end objective.

In becoming a dementia-friendly community, stakeholders will also look at the city’s parks, streets, signs and other aspects of community life that may affect a person living with dementia.

“Take in your city and, when the time comes, have those conversations about what can be done,” DeBuhr advised. “As you’re looking at changes for your business (lighting, signage, etc.), take your environment into consideration. Is it friendly to those with dementia?”

Once a business completes training for 50 percent of its front-line staff and its management, and a team leader/liaison is identified, a certificate and window cling denoting it as dementia-friendly will be provided for display. A trained business must also commit to sharing the DFC materials with new hires and to receiving follow-up training annually.

According to the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance, “People with dementia often pull away from society because it becomes more difficult for them to manage these activities that others take for granted. Going to the store can seem overwhelming. Paying with cash or credit card can cause confusion. Making decisions necessary at the bank, the post office or the grocery store can cause anxiety. When it becomes clear to others that this person is struggling, they may become embarrassed because there is a negative stigma attached.

“By creating an environment where staff better understands how to help people with dementia and a place where people are accepting, more people will feel comfortable remaining actively engaged in community life. There will be less embarrassment and more acceptance.”

In addition to general information about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, DeBuhr informed her trainees Nov. 17 about the Wisconsin Silver Alert Program, which is similar to Amber Alert but for seniors who go missing and are believed to have cognitive impairment. She said anyone can receive Silver Alerts by fax, email or text message (register at She also talked about memory diagnostic clinics in the Richland County, La Crosse and Platteville areas. All of these clinics have doctors who’ve received special training in dementia.

“It’s normal for our memory recall to slow down. But it’s not normal to not be able to bring [our memories] up at all. The short-term memory goes first and its typically after age 65. Many people with dementia also have depression,” DeBuhr pointed out.

While Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, other forms include Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia and frontotemporal dementia. Conditions that may mimic dementia are severe depression, brain tumors, nutritional deficiencies, head injuries, normal pressure hydrocephalus, infections, thyroid problems and drug reactions.

Warning signs of dementia could be: a change in what is normal for the person, a change that interferes with daily life, a change in language or understanding, and a change in mood or behavior.

For more information, call the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin at (888) 308-6251. Those interested in learning more about dementia-friendly community training may contact Jeanne Christie at the ADRC office, at 326-0235.

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