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Karin Kohlman of Baraboo has a simple message for people taking care of family members with dementia.

“It’s so important to not go through this alone,” she said Saturday to a sea of people wearing red shirts at Mary Rountree Evans Park in Baraboo. “You can’t do it.”

As a social worker for 17 years and the daughter of two parents who suffered from dementia, Kohlman knows how important it is for caregivers to get qualified support. She watched her mother struggle to single-handedly care for her father after he began to exhibit symptoms.

Kohlman, chairwoman of the 18th annual Sauk County Alzheimer’s Walk that took place Saturday, encouraged caregivers to find out what help is available to them and take advantage of it.

One way to do that, she said, is to reach out to the non-profit Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin. The group’s mission is to connect those affected by dementia with the resources they need.

Kohlman said caregivers can face impossible decisions fraught with guilt when deciding how to guide their loved ones through the journey of dementia. Often, professionals can help make those decisions easier.

Kohlman and her sisters know first-hand how difficult those choices can be. They encouraged their mother to get extra help after their father began to develop symptoms of dementia.

“She would have none of that,” Kohlman said, adding that being a caregiver took a toll on her mother. “She was a nurse. She was of the generation where she was going to take care of my dad, and that was that.”

Later on, as their mother began to develop dementia as well, Kohlman and her sisters struggled to make decisions they thought were necessary to protect her well-being. They ultimately got her into a Baraboo apartment complex that offers memory care services.

At first, it didn’t go over well. Their mother wanted to remain independent in her own home. However, Kohlman said, she gradually began to thrive in her new surroundings.

Saturday’s walk and seven others in other counties raise money for the Alzheimer’s & Dementia Alliance. The nonprofit began its work of helping people affected by dementia in 1985.

Last year, the group helped 25,000 people, including caregivers and those diagnosed with dementia, said Alliance board member Paul Pitas.

Pitas said his mother died in 2003 after four years of dementia-related decline.

“It was a very difficult time for our family,” he said. “The big problem we had at that time was we didn’t have a road map.”

The Alliance, Pitas said, helps guide caregivers down the rocky road of dementia. He said the group also is working to create dementia-friendly communities, and that 1,350 people in the greater Baraboo area have been trained as part of that effort.

Janet Weigel, Dementia Outreach Specialist for Alliance’s Columbia/Sauk Regional Office, said both of her parents suffered from dementia – her father for 17 years.

She said right now there are more than 120 diseases that have a dementia component, and incidents are rising due to an aging Baby Boomer population. But she said modern medicine has offered some hope.

“We’re starting to be able to diagnose it better, so we’re also catching it earlier,” she said. “We’re now aware of what medications we have to work with. And the medications work better the earlier you start them.”

Follow Tim Damos on Twitter @timdamos or contact him at 608-745-3513.

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