Empowering Minds – A Journey Against Dementia: The Dementia Awareness Fund

After losing his father, brother, and sister-in-law all to dementia, Don Hansen found himself on a mission he never anticipated: becoming a passionate philanthropist and a devoted advocate for increasing dementia awareness throughout Winnebago County and surrounding areas. His passion started with researching and educating himself about the disease—the various types, their symptoms, and the impact on both patients and caregivers. The more he understood, the stronger his desire grew to raise awareness and promote understanding. He realized that knowledge was the first step in combating the stigma that often surrounds dementia. The more it’s talked about, the closer we come to reducing its impact on individuals, families, and communities.

Dementia refers to loss of memory, language, and other thinking skills that is severe enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and as of 2020, about 120,000 Wisconsinites were living with the disease. This number is projected to grow as our population continues to age. It’s no secret that Wisconsin’s older population—those aged 60 and above—is undergoing a significant surge. Experts predict that by 2030, more than a quarter of Wisconsin’s entire population will be 60 or older.

As this demographic shift occurs, your Community Foundation is dedicated to staying in front of community trends and providing education and support. Together, with donors like Don, we are working to bring awareness to the community

“Increased awareness of dementia symptoms and knowing where to go for support is vital since the number of people living in the Oshkosh area with dementia is expected to double by 2040. There is recent news about new medications that may slow the progress of dementia, but still there is no cure,” shared Mike Rohrkaste, executive director of Fox Valley Memory Project.

Nearly a decade ago, Don established The Dementia Awareness Fund with a simple goal—to increase dementia awareness and support organizations working to do so. In addition to providing financial support to such organizations, Don also served on the Alzheimer’s Association and Fox Valley Memory Project Board of Directors and volunteered at local Memory Cafés and the Winnebago County Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC).

The Dementia Awareness Fund supports programs to increase understanding of the disease.

With support from Don’s fund, the Winnebago County ADRC offers a monthly Virtual Dementia Tour at Park View Health Center in Oshkosh. The tour, developed by Second Wind Dreams, is a patented and evidence-based method of building a greater understanding of dementia. It allows participants the opportunity to experience the physical and cognitive challenges facing those with dementia by “walking in their shoes.”

“This free program provided me a sense of what it is like to be an individual who has dementia. It was a profound emotional experience,” shared Paul Janty, former Winnebago County ADRC committee chair and Virtual Dementia Tour volunteer. “Participation has increased my compassion for individuals with dementia along with their caregivers and family members.”

The Fox Valley Memory Project, Winnebago County ADRC, and Alzheimer’s Association are combining resources to launch an Alzheimer’s and dementia awareness campaign this fall. This collaborative effort, funded by The Dementia Awareness Fund, will continue the groundwork Don started to increase understanding about dementia and promote support programs available to families in the greater Oshkosh area.

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