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Gina gives presenatation (copy)

Dementia care specialist Gina Laack works with dementia patients for the Aging and Disabilities Resource Center of Eagle Country, serving Richland, Juneau, Crawford and Sauk counties. Columbia County is seeking a grant to create a similar specialist position.

Columbia County’s Aging and Disabilities Resource Center wants to add a dementia care specialist to its staff.

Around Wisconsin, 21 of the state’s 45 aging and disabilities resource centers and three tribes have dementia care specialists. Gov. Tony Evers increased funding for dementia care in the 2019-2021 biennial budget, allowing for nine additional specialists, eight for resource centers and one for a native tribe.

Becky Mulhern, director of Columbia County ADRC, hopes the county is one of eight chosen to receive a specialist. She said the county’s 1,195 diagnosed dementia patients would benefit from the position.

Mulhern said the county works with the Alzheimer’s Association and Alzheimer’s Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin to bring care and aid to patients diagnosed with the disease and offers free memory screenings.

The ADRC of Eagle Country, which serves Richland, Crawford, Juneau and Sauk counties, received grant funding for a similar position in 2018, and has a specialist that serves the four counties. Sauk County Dementia Care Specialist Gina Laack has similar duties to what Mulhern hopes to see in Columbia County and has helped Sauk County become dementia-friendly.

Since starting in August 2018, Laack has worked one-on-one with patients and their caregivers to provide resources and care plans. She also has organized programs throughout the county to bring awareness of the disease to all members of the county, not only those affected.

Laack trained about 90 students in the Baraboo High School sophomore class in how to be dementia-friendly last spring. She also organized Dementia Live, a dementia simulation and education program at St. Clare Hospital.

Laack also organizes programs for caregivers, like Caregiver Boot Camp, a daylong program in which caregivers can learn the basics of dementia and the basics of care for someone with the disease.

“We really support and advocate for more dementia care specialists,” Laack said. “We’re thrilled that it was a bipartisan effort, something that everyone agrees on. It’s wonderful to have that support moving forward.”

If Columbia County receives funding for the position, Mulhern said the county could provide support groups and make the county dementia-friendly.

“We want to expand the programs we already have, and if we had a dementia care specialist, they would be able to take this program and run with it,” Mulhern said. “Having one person in the ADRC that is just solely dedicated to raise awareness and help support those people is beyond exciting.”

Mulhern plans to send a letter of intent for Columbia County to receive a specialist shortly, and the official application is due at the end of November.

Mulhern says she hopes funding for the dementia care program continues to expand with the next biennial budget, so each ADRC and tribe is able to have a specialist to accommodate the growing population of those diagnosed with the disease.

She said that by 2040, Columbia County’s dementia population is estimated to rise to 2,239 people diagnosed with the disease.

Follow Nicole on Twitter @Nicole_Aimone

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