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Reedsburg is home to the first designated, dementia-friendly business in Sauk County.

The Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin awarded its dementia-friendly designation to the Walgreens at 1100 E Main St. at a brief ceremony May 8.

Consider it a sign of things to come.

“We need to start thinking about the numbers that this is affecting. It’s huge,” said Janet Wiegel, outreach specialist for the alliance.

The alliance is a nonprofit that links people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, and the unpaid family and friends who care for them, with resources they need to support independent living.

To achieve the alliance’s dementia-friendly designation, businesses must complete training for management and 50 percent of front-line employees, among other things. The training includes guidance on how to recognize dementia-related confusion and how to communicate with and help customers who exhibit signs of dementia.

Walgreens is the nation’s largest drugstore chain with more than 8,200 stores and over eight million customers every day. As the largest U.S. operator of prescription drug pharmacies, the company has a front-row seat for what has been termed a dementia epidemic.

“It’s something we’re already confronted with on a daily basis anyway,” said Reedsburg store Manager Cory Schmidt.

Schmidt said when he learned a Walgreens in Middleton had completed the necessary training to earn the dementia-friendly designation he wanted to bring the training to the Reedsburg store.

As district manager for Walgreens, Brian Morey oversees the Reedsburg store and 10 others. He said the dementia-friendly designation is consistent with his company’s emphasis on service

“We have a senior population who comes in here and this affects so many people,” Morey said. “We’re not trying to be the cheapest. We want to offer that good customer service to these people and now knowing better how to serve them directly, that targeted audience, makes all feel more comfortable doing it.”

Wiegel said the Walgreens stores in Sauk City will soon get the dementia-friendly designation.

The alliance also sponsors the dementia-friendly designation for entire communities and Wiegel said she’s at work on a plan to make the entire city of Portage dementia friendly by training about 100 businesses.

“My goal is, over the next 20 years, to get all of Sauk and Columbia counties to be dementia friendly,” Wiegel said.

Wiegel said more than 116,000 people in Wisconsin have been diagnosed with dementia in some form and thousands more remain undiagnosed.

Those numbers will triple over the next 30 years as the Baby Boomers age, raising the stakes for education that helps businesses deal with sufferers.

“If we start now it’s going to make all the difference for those folks coming up in the next few years,” Wiegel said. “In 30 years it’s going to be so prevalent we’re not going to catch up.”