Dementia has broad impact

FAIRMONT — “Dementia” is an umbrella term that describes a wide range of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.

Jennelle Cunning, a Fairmont woman, is a Dementia Friend. Being a Dementia Friend means you want to learn more about dementia and put yourself in the shoes of someone living with the condition. You then take your understanding and turn it into action.

Cunning is now a Dementia Friend Champion, meaning she is able to give trainings so that others can become a Dementia Friend.

“Dementia Friends is a program that was developed by the Alzheimer’s Society in the United Kingdom before it came to the United States,” she said. “Minnesota has gone over and above in getting people to attend sessions. There are now 15,884 people that have attended sessions somewhere in the state of Minnesota.”

Dementia Friends was started in 2017 in Martin and Faribault counties.

Cunning reported that 60 percent to 80 percent of people who have some form of dementia have Alzheimer’s, if they have been diagnosed.

“It used to be that you had to have an autopsy after someone died to see that they had Alzheimer’s,” she explained. “But now with advanced technology and imaging, they can tell sooner.”

Other types of dementia include dementia with Lewy bodies, frontotemporal and vascular.

Cunning stressed that dementia is not just about having memory problems. There is a significant difference between what happens with normal aging and what happens when someone has dementia. As an example, she said normal aging include sometimes having trouble finding the right word, whereas someone living with dementia will develop new problems with words in speaking or writing.

Another normal part of aging is needing occasional help to use a setting on a microwave or button on a TV, whereas someone living with dementia will have difficulties completing familiar tasks at home or work.

Cunning said that when speaking to someone with dementia, it is important to speak slowly and clearly, as it can take up to 20 second for the words to register for someone with dementia. She said maintaining eye contact is also important.

The Alzheimer’s Association 2019 facts and figures report says that in Minnesota there are 97,000 people with Alzheimer’s, with the number expected to grow to 120,000 by 2025. The disease claimed 2,474 lives in 2017.

The report also says that the number of caregivers for people with dementia in the state exceeds 255,000, while the number of hours of unpaid care for someone with dementia is 291 million.

While stages of dementia and family life differ for everyone, Cunning said home health can cost around $45 per hour while an assisted-living facility could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $7,000 per month.

“Families have to take turns and if it’s just you and your spouse with no family around, the caregiver gets really worn down and the stress level goes up,” Cunning said.

More than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s and nearly 14 million will have the disease by 2050.

Those interested can become a Dementia Friend by watching an online video at or by attending an in-person information session led by a Dementia Friends Champion.