Staff of the Aroostook Agency on Aging gather during a press conference Friday morning to announce a nearly $1 million grant to create the Aroostook Memory Care Center. From left are Rev. Kenneth Phelps, chairperson of the agency's board; Ruth White, manager of service coordination; Joy Barresi Saucier, executive director; and Chris Beaulieu, manager of nutrition and home care. Credit: Paula Brewer / The Star-Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — People suffering from dementia in Aroostook County will find care closer to home when a memory care facility opens in Presque Isle next summer.

The Aroostook Agency on Aging has received $977,135 in grant funds to create the Aroostook Memory Care Center, which will serve residents countywide who have Alzheimer’s disease and their families.

Maine is demographically the oldest state in the country and Aroostook is sixth among its 16 counties, with a quarter of residents who are 65 and older, according to the U.S. Census. Nearly 29,000 Mainers suffer from Alzheimer’s or other dementia, and that number will grow as the population ages. The first of its kind in the state, the center will give County patients access to resources without having to travel south to Bangor or Portland.

“With an older population in Aroostook, the prevalence of individuals impacted by (Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias) is startling,” said Joy Barresi Saucier, Aroostook Agency on Aging executive director.

The Maine 2022 Shared Community Health Assessment showed that Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death in Aroostook County, she said. First is cancer, followed by heart disease, chronic lower respiratory disease and unintentional injury.

Currently there is no facility of this kind in Maine, Barresi Saucier said. The center will not be an assisted living or residential care facility, but will provide resources for early diagnosis, treatment plans, respite care and information for caregivers.

The Presque Isle center will be different in that it will virtually connect Aroostook County people with specialists at Bangor’s Acadia Hospital Mood and Memory Center, she said. Acadia staff will provide assessments, early diagnosis and treatment plans, while staff at the memory care facility will provide education and support for caregivers.

The Agency on Aging held a press conference Friday morning to introduce the plan for the new center, which will be established in a 4,400-square-foot space adjacent to its main office at 260 Main St.

The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living awarded the funding, which will be released over three years.

The site will also connect County residents with Dr. Clifford Singer, Acadia’s chief of geriatric mental health and neuropsychiatry, said Chris Beaulieu, Aroostook Agency on Aging’s director of nutrition and home care, who led the grant writing team.

The agency will launch a planning committee, which will include Singer and local staff, Beaulieu said Friday. While officials plan to use some current employees in the new center, they will hire a coordinator and other administrative staff in the future.

Part of the Agency on Aging’s mission is to help people age well in their communities and in their homes. Holistic memory care dovetails with that mission, as well as the four-year plan the state requires, said the Rev. Kenneth Phelps of Mapleton, chairperson of the agency’s board.

About 40 percent of people 65 and older have age-associated memory impairment, he said.

The center will offer education and training for patients, their families and caregivers, such as brain health education, community support, adult day respite and connection to resources.

On the financial side, the agency will develop a sustainability plan to ensure that the facility’s services can continue into the future, Barresi Saucier said. The plan is to create an endowment fund to accept donations, including memorial and planned gifts, to support the needs of those with memory loss and their loved ones.

For one member of the agency’s team, news of the memory care center has personal significance.

Ruth White, manager of service coordination, has been a caregiver to a parent who had acute memory loss. Having the new facility in The County will be a game changer, she said.

For every person who dies with Alzheimer’s, there is at least one caregiver, White said. But many people don’t consider themselves caregivers. They feel they are simply caring for family members they love and don’t see it as an obligation.

“Many of us have been there. Many of us are still there. And it’s hard,” White said. “With this center, we’re going to help change people’s lives.”

For information on the Aroostook Memory Care Center, contact the Aroostook Agency on Aging at 207-764-3396.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the presence of assisted living facilities in Aroostook County.