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Speaking out on memory loss

Lakeview students take dementia education project to Walk for Memories

Area residents were encouraged to wear purple and walk the trail around Independence Park during the Walk for Memories on Thursday afternoon. The event raises awareness of dementia and memory loss, and helps connect people with local support resources.

MARSHALL — Dementia and memory loss are conditions that affect many people and families in southwest Minnesota. Spreading the word about how to help support them has become an ongoing mission for a group of Lakeview High School students.

“This is a passion we have now,” said Lakeview junior Paige Walker.

Walker and Janel Schwartz were at Thursday’s Walk for Memories event in Marshall. Together with classmate Autumn Best, the three girls started a project to educate community members about dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Next week, they will be headed to Seattle, to present their project at the FCCLA National Leadership Conference.

The annual Walk for Memories honors people who have been affected by dementia, and includes booths with area support resources. Rainy weather on Thursday meant the event had a smaller number of booths than planned, but on Thursday afternoon there were still people walking the trail around Independence Park, and listening to singer/songwriter Kayla Daniels perform.

Schwartz and Walker were working at a T-shirt sale to help raise funds for the trip to the National Leadership Conference. But their story started months ago, with a project for FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America).

FCCLA is a service-based organization focused on student-led projects in family and consumer science topics, said Lakeview FCCLA adviser Bonnie Wasberg. For Best, Schwartz and Walker, “Their passion was to communicate about people with dementia,” Wasberg said.

“We wanted to do something that had to do with family,” and with bringing people of different generations together, Walker said.

Schwartz said the group’s project came into focus when they learned about Dementia Friends, an organization that helps educate and train community members about dementia.

“You can get training in five key messages about dementia,” she said. Some of those messages include that dementia symptoms are not just a normal part of aging; that it’s still possible to live well with dementia; and that there is more to a person than their dementia.

The Dementia Friends program also teaches people what some of the signs and effects of dementia are, Walker said. “Something that really stuck with me is that people with memory loss take more time to process things,” she said.

Schwartz and Best went through training with Dementia Friends. Then, group members used their training to teach others, including Lakeview seventh and eighth-grade students who were visiting with nursing home residents. They said they hoped the younger students would be able to have a better understanding, and be supportive toward people with dementia or memory loss.

The three girls prepared a presentation on the project, that they gave at FCCLA regional and state conferences. They compiled data like the hours they spent on training and teaching, as well as the number of people they worked with. “It was more putting all of our information, and the things we had done, into one place,” Walker said.

Being able to have an impact on people in their community was part of what made the project meaningful, Schwartz and Walker said.

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