Mayo Dementia Coference

Anne and Steve Wagner, of Shakopee, are looking forward to making connections and learning more about dementia at a Mayo Clinic conference in October. Steve, 59, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. (Photo by Caroline Yang)

At first, Anne and Steve Wagner attributed Steve’s trouble finding the right words to normal aging, not sleeping well or problems with his jaw.

“But it didn’t feel mechanical, like bones; it felt like it was inside, because the words would just stop in the middle of the word,” said Steve, 59. “I asked Siri, ‘What disease makes your words go away?’ and ‘aphasia’ [a language disorder] came up.”

Three years after Steve began struggling with language and memory loss, the Shakopee couple learned that another condition was contributing to his symptoms: early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

“It went from that traditional path of career and retirement to everything happening much more rapidly and with a greater sense of urgency,” said Anne, 59, a retired architect.

Steve stopped working as a national sales coach for Wells Fargo. The couple shifted their priorities to traveling, spending time with their three adult children and staying active with their new Labrador puppy.

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Nearly 100,000 Minnesotans have Alzheimer’s. To learn more about it and connect with other families, the Wagners will attend the Mayo Clinic Conference on Brain Health and Dementia, on Friday, Oct. 29 virtually.

The conference will feature expert speakers, updates on brain health, and practical workshops.

Staying positive

The free full-day event is hosted in collaboration with the Alzheimer’s Association Minnesota-North Dakota Chapter and AARP Minnesota.

Angela Lunde, conference course director and associate in neurology at the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, said that while “dementia means there will be cognitive changes, including decline, the message of hope that I want people to get is that dementia can coexist with well-being and quality of life.”

Racial disparities in dementia will be one focus of the conference, said Carl Hill, an officer at the national Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s affect twice as many Black people and 1.5 times as many Hispanics as whites. Racial disparities in medical care are an important factor to address, Hill said.

Sarah Lenz Lock, senior vice president for policy at AARP and executive director of the Global Council on Brain Health, plans to talk about how healthy lifestyles can reduce the risk of dementia and help people with the condition live fuller, healthier lives.

“The real challenge is changing culture and people’s behavior, and that is actually a difficult thing,” she said. “How do we move people’s hearts and minds to adopt what science is showing can help them?”

For the Wagners, the conference is an opportunity to share knowledge and a sense of purpose and community.

“If we can put a face on the disease everybody can relate to, I think that would go an awfully long way to better public understanding,” Anne said.

People with dementia, their families and caregivers can attend the conference virtually. To register, visit ce.mayo.edu/brainhealth2021.

Mary Van Beusekom is a writer living in Excelsior.

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