With about 50,000 affected, local group pushing to make KC dementia-friendly

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In just the last six weeks, at least six older people have been reported missing in the Kansas City area.

The metro has roughly 50,000 people with dementia right now. There are an additional 200,000 people taking care of them.

Do the math: Dementia impacts a quarter of a million people in Kansas City. The Alzheimer's Association expects that number to triple (both in Kansas City and nationwide) by 2050.

One group wants to make sure Kansas City is ready for it.

On Thursday, Anne Manning stood in the Bloch Gallery of the Nelson-Atkins Museum and talked about the famous Water Lilies painting on the wall.

"When you get up close, everything dissolves," she explained. "And it's only when you walk away, that all the colors and the paint strokes come together and you see those lilies form."

Much like Claude Monet's masterpiece, sometimes, we can't see the whole person when we only focus on the details.

"The people, the art, the spaces are all about making people feel welcome and comfortable," Manning said.

And that includes hosting specialized tours.

"Minds in Motion," Manning said, "is a tour for people with memory loss and their care-givers."

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is one of the few dementia-friendly businesses in Kansas City. Jennifer Walker wants more.

She's a former hospice nurse with a self-proclaimed soft-spot for the elderly.

"In Kansas City alone, we currently have approximately 50,000 people living with dementia," she said.

Walker will spend hours extolling the benefits of a Dementia-Friendly Community.

"They tend to get isolated," she said.

"There's little things that we can do that can help get them back into their community, and enjoying the things they used to love," she continued. "They are who they were, they just need to learn it different."

As Americans age, more cities want to become Dementia-Friendly Communities. But it doesn't take a fancy designation to help someone with dementia.

"Just being able to simply be a friendly person," said Erik Wray of the Alzheimer's Association. "Say 'Here, try this,' or 'Let me show you this.'"

"It doesn't have to be anything big and crazy," he said. "It just has to be simple and kind."

Becoming dementia-friendly isn't as difficult as you might think.

It can be as easy as having a quiet place at a restaurant to eat, offering a menu with pictures in addition to words, or providing a family bathroom.

People with Alzheimer's often have problems with depth perception, so another option is making sure they aren't walking on a dark floor or eating mashed potatoes off a white plate.

The Kansas City Library will host a forum on making Kansas City dementia-friendly at its Plaza location on April 5.

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