A welcome billboard in Paynesville, Minnesota, part of a statewide program supporting those with dementia.
A welcome billboard in Paynesville, Minnesota, part of a statewide program supporting those with dementia. - 
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With the annual number of new cases of Alzheimer’s and dementia-related diseases expected to double by mid-century, Paynesville is among a handful of Minnesota towns striving to be dementia-friendly for its aging population.

Minnesota has a long tradition of taking the needs of the elderly seriously. In fact, Paynesville takes those needs so seriously, it greets visitors with a billboard announcing that it’s a dementia-friendly community. Programs offer shopping assistance at the local grocery store, education for first responders and training for local businesses.

At a recent training of employees at a local eye care chain, when Linda Musel asked the crowd of 25 how many know someone with the disease, hands shot up around the room.

She had several tips for helping customers with dementia.

Among them: approach these customers from the front, and use familiar words.

And finally, she added, “Never argue with someone with dementia. You will not win.”

Ann Friederichs, who participated in the training, said helping customers who have dementia is just good business: “When you know a little bit more about a person coming in, it actually gives you more opportunity to create a comfortable environment for that person.”

The Paynvesville program has also made cards for caregivers to give to store assistants that ask for patience when dealing with customers with dementia.

Sam Fazio, who directs constituent services for the Alzheimer’s Association said becoming a dementia-friendly town is all about inclusion. The focus needs to on the family but also the community.

“How can people with Alzheimer’s disease continue to be included, engaged, supported in their communities so they can function independently as long as possible?” Fazio said.

The Minnesota model is working so well that the Alzheimer’s Association wants to adopt it nationwide.

And there’s another plus. Keeping dementia patients independent means keeping them out of nursing homes, which translates into big health care savings.