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Michelle Meinen, social worker with the Pierce County ADRC, said help is available for those with dementia and their caregivers. Anyone who has questions can call the ADRC at 715-273-6782. Sara Tischauser / RiverTown Multimedia

Facing a disease by yourself can be overwhelming. When it comes to Alzheimer's and dementia, help is available for not only those suffering from the disease, but their caregivers as well.

Michelle Meinen, social worker with the Pierce County Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) said many communities have programs to help those with dementia along with their caregivers.

Spring Valley Seniors Staying Put is a volunteer organization whose mission is "coordinating volunteers to help seniors and adults with disabilities maintain their independence." The group, among other services, offers transportation to and from appointments, delivers meals on wheels, offers socialization (playing cards, games, talking), helps with light housekeeping or yard work and provides a break for caregivers. Clubs and activities include memory cafes, a dance club, a walking group, Victorian tea parties, social Sundays and a craft circle.

In River Falls, an adult social day respite program called Among Friends is held at the First Congregational Church. This program allows caregivers to drop off their loved ones in a safe environment with trained professionals, giving them a day to themselves.

Meinen said anyone interested in these or other programs should contact the Pierce County ADRC at 715-273-6780.

Helping caregivers find resources and support is St. Croix County ADRC Caregiver Support Coordinator Tara Murdzek's job.

"My job is to make sure they [caregiver] have the support they need to continue to be a caregiver," Murdzek said.

Murdzek's services are available to St. Croix County residents who don't reside in assisted living or nursing home facilities. If someone resides in one of those facilities, it already has social workers or nurses.

Being surrounded by peers and having people who understand the situation can help a caregiver deal with the stress and responsibility of taking care of someone with dementia.

"The caregiving journey, it can be very isolating," Murdzek said. "[Support group] is for the caregiver, not the person with dementia. It's a stress reliever with your peers, so you don't feel like you are alone."

While Murdzek leads the support group, it's a discussion between the people in attendance. Attendees can share their experiences and what to expect in the next stages of the disease. Murdzek said the group creates bonds between attendees who share similar life experiences.

Support groups are available through the ADRC the first Tuesday of the month at 9 a.m. at the New Richmond Civic Center; the second Friday of the month at 9:30 a.m. at St. Bridget's Church in River Falls; and the third Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. at the St. Croix County Government Center in Hudson. They are open to all caregivers; more information can be found at www.sccwi.gov/159/Caregiver-Support.

Murdzek said many caregivers believe they need to take care of loved ones by themselves.

"Stigma is, it's my job, I can do it myself," Murdzek said. "[Need to get] over the hump and ask for help. Nobody can do it alone. It's overwhelming to be caregiving 24/7."

As part of her job, Murdzek can go to families' homes and assess the situation, "help them outline where they are and what they need."

Murdzek said the ADRC also offers a DayAway social respite program three days a week.

"It's a social model respite," Murdzek said. "Caregiver drops them off and picks them up and caregiver can go do what they need to do. Lunch is provided for the loved one. It's a great thing and runs three days a week."

To be eligible, participants must be able to eat and socialize since the program does not have a nurse present to help with caregiving. The program is free to St. Croix county residents; anyone from outside the county who wants to participate can pay a $45 fee per day. For more information go to www.sccwi.gov/164/DayAway---Adult-Day-Respite-Program.

As families start the journey through dementia and Alzheimer's, Murdzek said it's important to consider the wishes of that person.

"It's hard for people to talk about end of life plans in general, but a benefit to plan out," Murdzek said.

Looking at nursing homes, filling out power of attorney paperwork and making final wishes known is something Murdzek encourages families to do.

"It's important to talk about and get a plan out there what the last parts of your life will look like," Murdzek said.

Protecting and helping people with dementia and Alzheimer's, Meinen said, is important. The ADRC wants to keep them in their homes and communities as long as safely possible.

Unfortunately, those with memory issues often fall victim to scams, Meinen said. Scams circulating include people receiving phone calls saying they have won money or asking to have access to a personal computer in order to perform repairs. People with memory issues may fall victim to these scams more easily than most. Meinen reminds people to be leary of phone calls from people you don't know and to never let an unknown person gain outside access to a personal computer.

As more communities become dementia friendly, more people can keep their independence.

"If people in the community know how to interact and communicate with someone with dementia, a dementia person can [safely] go to the bank and grocery store," Meinen said.

She encourages neighbors to keep an eye on each other.

"We do know since we live in a rural community, there are a lot of individuals that live in the country and don't have anyone watching them," Meinen said. "It's okay for a neighbor to call us if they are worried about somebody."

Anyone with questions about dementia or Alzheimer's should contact Pierce County ADRC at 715-273-6780 or St. Croix County ADRC at 715-381-4360.

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