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Sen. Amy Klobuchar hears from caregivers helping those with Alzheimer's

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, held a virtual roundtable with northwest Minnesota caregivers who assist those living with Alzheimer's disease.

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Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
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BEMIDJI -- U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar spoke with several northwest Minnesota caregivers Wednesday about working with people suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

In a virtual roundtable, Klobuchar discussed how technology has come into play with caring for people with Alzheimer's and what should be considered during the holiday season for those living with the disease. Included in the roundtable were representatives from several agencies, including Jennifer Cole dementia program manager at Northwoods Caregivers in Bemidji.

"We thought it was really timely to talk about this," said Klobuchar, whose own father died of Alzheimer's earlier this year. "The holiday season is not an easy time for family members with Alzheimer's or dementia. It's a good moment to be able to talk about this from a northwestern Minnesota perspective, with both big towns and small towns, in terms of what people are experiencing."

For the holidays, Cole had the following advice to give.

"Talk about it, don't pretend that it's not there," Cole said. "There are also things we can do to help our loved ones in large gatherings. We need to step into their world. If they're feeling uncomfortable, make note of what the room looks like, if there's too much light or commotion, have a quiet place to go. As we age, these can be difficult to maneuver already, but then you add Alzheimer's on it."


Cole also described how Northwoods had to rely on technology more when coronavirus lockdowns were in place. For example, they were able to utilize a grant to purchase iPads for both caregivers and receivers to ensure continued communication and support during the pandemic.

Wednesday's discussion comes several months after Klobuchar introduced new Alzheimer's-related legislation.

In the spring, Klobuchar was joined by Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, in bringing forward the Alzheimer's Caregiver Support Act to expand training and support services for families and caregivers of patients with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Reps. Maxine Waters, D-CA43 and Chris Smith, R-NJ4.

"We're working really hard and have some bills in Washington with significant funding for dealing with aging relatives and our population in a dignified way," Klobuchar said. "Allowing people to stay in their homes as much as possible and giving caregivers the help they need.

"I would think that having strong support in our country for things like Medicare and Medicaid is going to make a difference. We need to make sure we keep these programs funded because it can be very hard for some families."

In her remarks, Maicie Bentley, the clinical nurse supervisor at Hawley Senior Living, said wages tied to federal dollar reimbursements is another issue the senator should look into.

"In assisted living, we're Medicare or Medicaid funded, so our wages really lack in comparison to nursing homes or bigger organizations," Bentley said. "We've seen trouble with staff retention. We are very lucky to have a good core for our residents here, but it can be very mentally and physically exhausting, and we're not able to reimburse for wages. So that's been a big struggle, especially with COVID, because we've been overstretching."

"We've been focusing on health care, which we should, but the long-term care has been the elephant in the room," Klobuchar said. "We know we want people to stay in their homes as long as possible, and that means helping our caregivers."


She also added that at some point, families can't take care of loved ones with advancing Alzheimer's.

"There is some assisted living covered by Medicaid, but there's also a big emphasis on how we can help caregivers," she said, "and how we can start providing more things like tax credits."

Matthew Liedke is a reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is originally from International Falls and now resides in Bemidji. He's a 2009 graduate of Rainy River Community College and a 2012 graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead. At the Pioneer, he covers government, politics, health and economic development. He can be reached at (218) 333-9791 or by email at mliedke@bemidjipioneer.com.
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