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As local population with dementia grows, area bank branches equipped to treat customers with patience, dignitySubmitted: 07/19/2018

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WAUSAU - More than 115,000 people in Wisconsin live with dementia.

That number will double in the next 20 years, according to the state Department of Health Services.

Northern Wisconsin will likely see some of the biggest effects, with a population aging faster than the rest of the state. Communities and businesses can see the change coming, and at least one business seems well prepared.

"One of the first signs of dementia is financial confusion," said Rhonda Lewis, the Executive Administrative Assistant at Wausau-based River Valley Bank.


All 15 River Valley Bank branches in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula are now certified as dementia-friendly, thanks to Lewis' work.

She trained employees to make eye contact, speak slowly and clearly, and have patience for customers with dementia.

"It's all about dignity," Lewis said. "We want to make sure that we maintain the dignity of the individual because this is no disease that they had chosen to have."

Years ago, addressing dementia became a passion for Lewis. Her father died at age 91 after a few years with dementia.

"Dad was a World War II decorated vet. To see him in that condition was extremely tough for the family," she said.

Oneida County Department on Aging Director Dianne Jacobson is thankful for the work of Lewis and people like her. She can see the trends of an aging population in the area.

"[Dementia] is something that's on the rise here in the Northwoods, and it's important that people know how to be prepared to deal with it," Jacobson said. "Seventy percent of those folks are out going to the grocery store, going to the bank. When someone gets a diagnosis, they don't suddenly get plucked away and put somewhere."

Lewis has now trained River Valley Bank employers to become trainers for dementia-friendly service themselves. Bank locations offer sessions for employees four times a year.

Story By: Ben Meyer

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