UW–Madison Alzheimer’s disease experts participate in dementia friendly events at the Wisconsin Executive Residence

On June 8, 2023, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and First Lady Kathy Evers welcomed people living with dementia, their caregivers and representatives from community organizations to dementia friendly events at the Governor’s Executive Residence. Supporting people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and their caregivers is a priority initiative of First Lady Evers, who previously led an effort to make the executive residence a dementia friendly location.

Former Wisconsin Governor Marty Schreiber gave spirited, welcoming remarks at the June 8 morning event, joking that when he was governor in 1979, the executive residence was a log cabin. Schreiber was a caregiver to his wife, Elaine Schreiber, for several years before she died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2022. Schreiber said his experiences as a caregiver taught him many things, including the importance of forming a caregiving community. 

“We can take strength from one another,” he said. “And we can find ways to continue to live our best lives possible.” The former governor is also the author of My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver.

Cynthia Carlsson, MD, MS, presented an information session at the event. Carlsson is the director of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute and clinical core leader of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC). Her work as a geriatrician and researcher was inspired by witnessing her grandmother’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease and the reality her grandfather experienced as a caregiver, she said. Dementia caregivers are a lifeline to research and to health care, Carlsson said. She noted that providers and researchers need to understand the importance of caregivers, the many types of caregivers there are and the unique situations they face.  

“One of our jobs is to support caregivers in the best way possible, which is why we welcome this opportunity to hear from everyone here today about how this work can better serve people living with dementia and their loved ones, ” she said.

Wisconsin ADRC director Sanjay Asthana, MD, fielded questions at the event and touched on breakthroughs being made in research, including a blood test to diagnose signs of Alzheimer’s disease that has recently been developed and is being implemented at the Wisconsin ADRC and Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute. Tools like this and new therapeutics for Alzheimer’s disease are significant, new steps in preventing Alzheimer’s disease, detecting early diagnosis and even slowing symptom progression, he said. He discussed the roles many people play in helping people with memory loss. “It takes a village to address a disease like Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. Asthana also emphasized the importance of solving health disparities and engaging with all communities, including rural and urban.

Art Walaszek, MD, and Stephanie Houston, MBA, from Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Institute and Kristen Felten from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services were also on hand to talk with audience members about anticipating and understanding changes associated with dementia, how to find resources and to answer questions. 

First Lady Evers thanked the speakers and caregivers and people living with memory loss who attended the events. She said she recognizes the effort required to support individuals in the dementia community. “Dementia friendly is more than a sign on a wall, “ she said. “We’re all here to give you support today and we’ll continue to train, to host programs and tours.” 

The day concluded with an afternoon event with dementia friendly tours of the Wisconsin Executive Residence and an art exhibit of artwork created by individuals living with dementia. 

Additional Resources

Listen to Former Wisconsin Governor Marty Schreiber’s episodes of Dementia Matters, “Therapeutic Fibbing: Mastering the Art of Communicating with a Loved One with Dementia,” and “The Triumphs and Challenges of Being a Dementia Caretaker,” on the Wisconsin ADRC website and on all major podcast platforms.