Harmony recently received a grant through ACT on Alzheimer's to help make Harmony a more dementia-friendly community. Harmony is one of 12 new action communities to commit towards preparing Minnesota for the growing number of people with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias in the first round of grant funding from ACT on Alzheimer's.

The Alzheimer's Association estimates there are 88,000 Minnesotans, age 65 and older, with the disease and many thousands more with other dementias. One in nine people, age 65 and older, has Alzheimer's disease.

Taking the lead as a local charter action team are Tim Samuelson, Gundersen Harmony Care Center director; Linda Kastantin, clinic manager of Gundersen Health System's Minnesota Clinics; Theresa Knutson, Clara House of Harmony campus director and the Rev. Betsy Darrt of Harmony's Greenfield Lutheran Church. The formation of this team was essential to obtain this funding for the Harmony community.

"The reason I applied for the ACT on Alzheimer's grant was that I observed the need to understand this disease in the early stages. Alzheimer's disease is progressive and symptoms vary from person to person," explained Samuelson. "It is very important to understand that a neighbor who is diagnosed with the disease can function independently for a period of time with a little help from friends. The 'little help from friends' concept of neighborliness is the outcome I expect from this program. Additionally, the ACT on Alzheimer's education will inform us when it is time to assist with getting appropriate placement or help for the individual who has Alzheimer's. Hopefully we relieve stress for the daughter, son or relative who is the primary caregiver by providing education about the stages of progression one might observe in an Alzheimer victim and that the caregiver has support in the efforts to care for their loved one."

Additional local citizens will soon be asked to join the committee to guide Harmony through a planning process with the ultimate goal to best provide local caring community support for those with dementia and their caregivers.

Lori Slindee has been contracted to be the ACT on Alzheimer's community coordinator in Harmony.

ACT on Alzheimer's is a volunteer-driven, state-wide collaboration preparing Minnesota for the growing personal, social and budgetary impacts of Alzheimer's. Working with communities striving to become dementia-friendly is one of Act's key strategies.

"The 12 new communities build on the exciting work being done by the seven ACT on Alzheimer's pilot action communities," said Olivia Mastry, executive lead for Act on Alzheimer's. "As the population of Minnesota ages, it's becoming increasingly important to build support systems for people with dementias and Alzheimer's. Some of the most exciting innovations will emerge from this community work. Creating dementia-friendly communities means that caregivers are supported and people with dementia are able to live in the community and stay out of institutional care longer. That helps everyone - families and taxpayers who pay for institutional care, employers who have workers trying to balance all the demands of caregiving and individual themselves."

Currently, more than 60 organizations are partners in Minnesota's ACT on Alzheimer's. More information is available at www.actonalz.org. Harmony joins the seven pilot communities of Cambridge, Forest Lake, St. Louis Park, St. Paul, Walker, Willmar and the Twin Cities Jewish Community in the forefront of this campaign.

In addition to Harmony, the other 11 initially-funded action communities are in Bemidji, Brainerd/Baxter, Detroit Lakes, Edina, International Falls, Marshall, Northfield, Roseville and St. Paul's northeast neighborhoods, in addition to CLUES (reaching Latino populations) and the Minnesota Council of Churches.

Harmony's grant is funded through Blue Plus (an HMO affiliate of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota), the Medica Foundation and the Greater Twin Cities United Way.