Addressing mental health conditions may reduce risks for dementia for older adults

St. Clair County Community Mental Health (CMH) helps people of all ages with their mental health concerns.

Mental health issues are a predictor of dementia. A February 2022 study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and the University of Auckland in New Zealand found an  association between mental health conditions and dementia later in life. While the research did not determine the link between the two, the researchers concluded that successfully addressing mental health conditions may help reduce risks for dementia for older adults.

St. Clair County Community Mental Health (CMH) helps people of all ages with their mental health concerns. In fact, St. Clair CMH recently moved to a new location to accommodate the increasing number of clients it serves. St. Clair CMH director and CEO Deb Johnson also heads up The Dementia & Alzheimer’s Association of St. Clair County (DAASCC), an organization focused on bringing awareness to the disease while caring for the caregivers that experience their family members decline firsthand. Taking on a job to aid a person experiencing memory loss creates a situation where it is not just those suffering from Alzheirmers and dementia that face mental health strain. 

“What we do is important because we're trying to bring awareness to the disease," Johnson says. "We're also trying to bring education about it and we're trying to support families and caregivers. We talk about the importance of self-care."

St. Clair County Mental Health’s focus on Alzheimer’s and dementia started with a woman named Marcia Haynes. A St. Clair County resident, Haynes facilitated a “Summit on Alzheimer's” to talk about the kind of support local agencies have for people with Alzheimer's and dementia. The summit later evolved into DAASCC. 

Haynes’ passion and dedication to the cause was born of her own personal connection. Her husband’s diagnosis in 2008 gave her firsthand experience dealing with the disease. Information was lacking, not just for those who suffer from Alzheimers and dementia, but those who care for them as well. She found resources in St. Clair County, but few people knew how to access them, and she wanted to change that. From that determination DAASCC was born and has since raised over $108,000 and served 61 families in St. Clair County by providing respite care. According to Johnson, Haynes paved the way for mental health professionals like herself to go forward and better serve those members of the St. Clair County community with Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

Alzheimer’s and dementia, despite common misconception, are not interchangeable terms. According to the Alzheimer’s Association “Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life, while Alzheimer's is a specific disease. Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia.”
With 190,000 people 65 or older living with Alzheimer’s in Michigan, 380,000 caregivers are bearing the weight of the disease for their loved ones. One of the most important programs that the DAASCC provides is the respite and relief program for caregivers. 

Mental health issues are a predictor of dementia.

Recently, the DAASCC received the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Legacy Fund for Caregivers from the Southeast Community Foundation of Michigan. The $25,000 award will allow for more respite care to reach caregivers in need in the St. Clair County community. 

“Anyone in St. Clair County is welcome to apply [for respite care],” Johnson says. “We hope people will contact us and use this money and give themselves the relief that they probably need and deserve.” 

After completing a simple application, caregivers may be awarded $1,500 per calendar year. DAASCC does not consider income as a factor when giving out the awards. In some situations, caregivers may be considered for more when extra assistance is needed.
Dementia & Alzheimer’s Association of St. Clair County raises awareness and provides support to people with dementia and their caregivers.

If all goes according to plan, the DAASCC’s focus on aiding those with Alzheimer’s and dementia  — and the people who care for them — will expand beyond respite and relief to include social programs and other supports.

“Before COVID, we used to have a social program held throughout St. Clair County,  a social time for caregivers to come together with their families and build community with other caregivers,” Johnson says. “These social events also involved activities for the loved ones they care for, focusing on the mental health of the entire family unit.” 

Johnson believes that events like these bring together members of the community to lean on and learn from each other.

"That would have immeasurable benefits on St. Clair County," she says. "Hopefully social events can be reinstated soon." 

On Sunday Sept. 24, the DAASCC will host its annual 5K Run/Walk to Find the Cure to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as raise funds for caregivers. Registration is open. 

For more information on dementia, tune into Michigan's State of Health Podcast: Changing the conversation about dementia. 

Ashley King is a born-and-raised Michigander. She wants to use her writing expertise gained from her time studying at the University of Michigan to make sure the stories of Michigan reach far and wide across the Mitten.

Photos courtesy St. Clair Community Mental Health and

The MI Mental Health series highlights the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, Center for Health and Research Transformation, Genesee Health System, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, North Country CMH, Northern Lakes CMH Authority, OnPoint, Sanilac County CMH, St. Clair County CMH, Summit Pointe, and Washtenaw County CMH.


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