Roseville group seeks to bolster community help for seniors with dementia


Bernie and Maryanne Kupferschmidt spend most their time together in Little Canada at their residence at Mayfield Senior Housing. The couple enjoys visits with their many children and family, who mostly live in the area. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

Bernie Kupferschidt was once an accomplished wood carver, and his handiwork ranges from birds to a scenic favorite wall carving. (Linda E. Andersen/Review)

Warren Wolfe
special to the Review
 
Concerned that many people and businesses in Roseville are ill-equipped to deal with rising numbers of friends, neighbors or customers struggling with Alzheimer's disease, a volunteer group has launched a community effort to bring help.

The project is called Roseville Act on Alzheimer's, part of a statewide effort to help communities become "dementia friendly."

So far, 32 Minnesota communities have begun Act on Alzheimer's projects, seeking programs, services or education to improve the quality of life for people with dementia, and their families and friends.

In Roseville, the next step will come at a community forum on the topic from 2:30-4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21, at the Fairview Community Center Solarium, 1910 W. County Road B.

Residents, business people and others with ties to the city will hear results of a recent survey conducted by the Roseville group, discuss the city's strengths and gaps in meeting the needs of people with memory loss and help chart a course of action.

"This will be the key event as we work together to figure out what's best for the people of Roseville," said Kitty Gogins, coordinator of the project, who also is a business consultant and member of the Roseville School Board.

Volunteer team formed

Preliminary results from the survey show strong support for helping residents improve their knowledge about the signs of dementia, the skills to interact with affected people and the ability to make referrals.

"I think those are really important -- especially learning how to talk with someone who has Alzheimer's," said caregiver Maryanne Kupferschmidt, 85, of Little Canada, who for several years has been giving increasing care to her husband, Bernard, 87. "Sometimes people act like Bernie isn't there."

The Act on Alzheimer's project was started by the Roseville Alzheimer's and Dementia Community Action Team of volunteers, begun in 2013. Last April, it was awarded $8,000 from the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging to help pay for the community survey and hire Gogins to lead the Act project, which involves about 20 residents, care providers, city officials, parish nurses and others.

The action team has started several other projects, including dementia screenings, public forums on dementia and new web pages on the Roseville city website with information about Act on Alzheimer's as well as resources and events for families dealing with dementia.

Local families deal with dementia

The Kupferschmidts live in a senior housing complex in Little Canada and are regulars at twice-monthly Memory Cafe gatherings for those with dementia and their caregivers at J. Arthur's Coffee on Rice Street in Roseville.

Usually happy and gregarious, her husband started as a "blueprint boy" at St. Paul Foundry and Manufacturing, rising to become a draftsman and then chief engineer. Then he operated his own consulting business for 15 years, retiring at age 69.

But nowadays he no longer can carry on complex conversations or counsel engaged couples as he and Maryanne did for 32 years at St. John's Catholic Church of Little Canada. Like most people with Alzheimer's, his grip on the past is hazy. But he can show off the wooden birds and fish he carved over the years. And he still can whip out a harmonica and zip into scores of tunes he learned over the decades -- although most now tend to end in "Oh, Suzanna."

"I like playing. Keeps me young," he said, his face beaming.

He often accompanies his wife to social gatherings with friends and is warmly welcomed -- "that's one thing we haven't lost is our friends," she said. "Other people, even doctors, sometimes don't seem to know how to talk to Bernie, but our friends are still there."

Growing numbers suffer from dementia

The impetus behind the statewide Act on Alzheimer's campaign came in 2009 when the Legislature asked the Minnesota Board on Aging to study how the state should respond to rising numbers of people with dementia -- up from about 88,000 in the year 2000 to about 95,000 today. Because people are living longer, it's predicted to hit 110,000 by 2025.

The Minnesota Act on Alzheimer's collaborative began in 2011, now with 50 state organizations, including all major health plans, the medical and hospital associations, Mayo Clinic, AARP and other groups. More than 40 other states have begun similar efforts, but Minnesota often is cited as a trailblazer in assessing needs and taking action.

In Roseville, it's estimated about 750 people have a dementia disease, including about 110 who live alone. It affects about one in nine of people age 65 and older, and one in three 85 and older. Alzheimer's accounts for about 70 percent of dementias.

There is no cure. Medications can slow Alzheimer's in about half of patients for a time. For those affected, damage to brain cells slowly disrupts their memory, judgment and personality. Ultimately, it leads to death, although most patients die earlier of something else.

A stress that never ends

Those at the Oct. 21 community meeting will help select priorities for future action. Potential approaches could include developing a list of community resources or a dementia training program for residents, businesses and clergy.

Those tools could help people become more comfortable with families coping with dementia, but another goal will be to help ease some of the stress on caregivers like Maryanne Kupferschmidt.

It's a stress that seems never to end. In addition to helping her husband with activities of daily life, she also keeps an eagle eye out because he's wandered off a few times.

"I'm doing OK, really, but I don't get enough sleep," she said. "I looked into hiring someone to stay with us during at night, but that's as expensive as being in the nursing home." She is looking at enrolling him in adult day care both to stimulate him and give her a break, and to sign him up for a research project at the University of Minnesota testing the effect of exercise on dementia.

"Sometimes I get a little short with Bernie," Maryanne said. "I know that's just what happens sometimes, but I don't like to be that way. I'm working at learning patience."

Her husband stretched out a hand and rubbed her shoulder. "She's an angel," he said.

For more information about the Roseville Act on Alzheimer's program, visit ActonAlz.org or search "Alzheimers" at www.ci.roseville.mn.us.

Warren Wolfe wrote about aging issues for 21 years at the Star Tribune. He retired last year. He and his wife, Sheryl Fairbanks, helped care for their four parents, two with dementia, and are active in the Roseville Act on Alzheimer's project.


If you go...

Act on Alzheimer's Community Meeting

Tuesday, Oct. 21, at 2:30 p.m.
Fairview Community Center Solarium, 1910 County Road B W. in Roseville
Learn about Roseville's strengths and gaps in meeting the needs of residents with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias and help define community priorities for future action.
For more information, call Janell Wampler at 651-604-3522, or go to ActonAlz.org.  
 

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