HELENA — According to the Alzheimer's Association, there are 22,000 people over the age of 65 living with the disease in Montana. Nearly 10 percent of Montanans over the age of 45 have subjective cognitive decline.
16,000 family caregivers in the state will take care of people living with Alzheimer's, amounting to 24 million hours of unpaid care.
Alzheimer's is just one of several forms of memory loss or dementia that are progressive, irreversible, and fatal.
Beyond that, the disease creates long-term financial and emotional challenges for families and caregivers.
Rocky Mountain Development Council (RMDC) in Helena is helping people living with the disease and their caregivers connect and support each other.
On Wednesday, RMDC held a memory cafe for those suffering from memory loss and their caregivers to have a space to socialize.
"It's very demanding 24/7, and it's hard. It's exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally and you really as a caregiver. You need your family, your relatives, and your friends behind you," said Gary Lunde.
Gary was a caregiver for his wife, Mary. She passed away over a year ago, but Gary still comes to Memory Café and other RMDC events to support the caregivers in the Helena community.
"I just decided that the way that I could give back more than just writing a check was to help other people that are going through the same thing better understand what the process is and helping them understand," said Gary.
Gary says having a supportive space for memory loss patients is a worthwhile experience.
"It is a great feeling that you can actually see that you're helping them you can feel, and it's very, very rewarding," said Gary.
On Wednesday, the Memory Cafe was full of holiday cheer, with cookie decorating and singing from the Xpress Singers.
Claire Marshall is the Caregiver Support Coordinator for RMDC and says creating a space for those struggling during the pandemic is vital to have them take a breath.
"I like to know that seniors are getting socialization they need and their caregivers too because people that take care of people kind of forget about their own health and their own socialization. So it's good to get them in here to have a morning to hang out and kind of relax a little bit," said Marshall.
RMDC'S Memory Café is on the third Wednesday of every month, and all are welcome to join.