Dementia is a growing concern in America.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are more than 5 million people in America who live with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and billions of dollars are spent each year to help care for those who face these issues of significant memory loss.

Raising awareness to the realities of dementia is what the Redwood Area Dementia Awareness Network strives to do, and this past Monday night the group, with support from other area businesses and organizations, hosted a fall dementia event at the Redwood Falls Public Library. 

The event included a presentation by Clarissa Dumdei, who is a nurse practitioner focusing on geriatrics and memory loss at Avera in Marshall.

“Dementia is a common illness, and as the Baby Boomers continue to get older we are going to see even more of it,” Dumdei told a group of more than 30 people who came to hear her speak.

While at one time the issue of memory loss was something people just assumed came with getting older, Dumdei said increased education and research has demonstrated that it is not just a natural part of life.

“We are talking a lot more about dementia today than ever before,” said Dumdei, adding, however, there is still more that can be done to help people see that dementia is more than just forgetfulness.

As people age, life changes with them, said Dumdei, and at times those changes can be stressful.

Whether it is the loss of a loved one, a job change or a move from a lifelong home to something new, those changes can create anxiety and depression that can ultimately lead to some memory loss.

“When you think you are experiencing some form of memory loss, it is important to talk to someone about it,” said Dumdei, adding a good place to start is with one’s primary caregiver. “What you may be experiencing may be something that can be fixed.”

If left untreated and ignored, it can become something much more concerning and unhealthy and can lead to even more significant memory loss issues.

It is during those discussions with one’s healthcare provider that a diagnosis of dementia can be made, and if the diagnosis is made in the early stages there are things that can be done to help make things easier as it progresses.

According to Dumdei, an early diagnoses gives those with dementia and their families:

• A better chance of benefitting from treatment

• More time to plan for the future

• Lessened levels of anxiety about unknown problems

• Increased chances to participate in chemical trials, helping to advance research

• An opportunity to participate in care decisions

• Time to develop relationships with healthcare providers

• An opportunity to benefit from care and support services that can make disease management easier

Dumdei is part of a newly opened memory care clinic Avera has established in Marshall, and she said through this new healthcare facility people are able to come and learn more about memory loss, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and what can be done to help those who are facing cognition loss issues.

No, she said, not everyone who is experiencing memory loss has dementia, but she said educating oneself can help to differentiate between what one is experiencing when they can’t immediately find their keys compared to getting in a car and not remembering how to drive.

When one has been diagnosed with dementia, there are options, said Dumdei, adding medications have been developed that come in two types – those given to people in the early to moderate stages of dementia and those administered to people who are in the later stages of dementia.

No, she said, these medications do not cure dementia, and she said they are not a one-size-fits-all, as some who take them don’t experience anything different when taking them.

“Some people have trouble with the side effects,” said Dumdei.

While Dumdei said the memory clinic has a great team of support for those who are facing memory loss issues, she added what matters most is not where one is getting the treatment as long as they are receiving care.

Dumdei said there are great resources available in communities, such as Redwood Falls, that can provide the services one with dementia and those who are caring for them need.

“Everybody’s needs are different,” said Dumdei, “and everyone needs their own individualized plan of care.”

As one’s memory changes, Dumdei advised those attending the presentation to make the time to fill out an advanced care directive and to have a healthcare agent established who can speak for you when you no longer can speak for yourself.

By 2050 the Alzheimer’s Association is showing that the economic impact of dementia on the United States will exceed $1 trillion annually, adding another person is diagnosed with dementia every 66 seconds.

While there is currently no cure for dementia, research continues to that end.

To learn more, visit the Alzheimer’s Association Web site at www.alz.org.