ST. ALBANS, WV (WOWK) – Those who work with people experiencing Alzheimer’s or dementia frequently say there can be problems talking about their medical condition—especially when coming in contact with police and first responders.
The West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association’s new training program is aimed to help work on those skills.
“As the first person on scene, they have the ability to manage the situation. So, if it is someone with dementia who is exhibiting behaviors or maybe not communicating well or following directions, it’s just a good idea to know that there could be a reason,” said Teresa Morris, program director of WVAA.
In West Virginia, 39,000 people ages 65 and older live with Alzheimer’s, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The St. Albans Police Department is one of the first law enforcement agencies to get on board with dementia-trained officers.
“I think it’s great that the education is getting out there and having resources to be like ‘hey, this is who you call,'” exclaimed Chief Joe Crawford with St. Albans PD.
Some tactics that the Alzheimer’s Association encourages first responders to use is to approach someone with dementia from the front, use a calming voice, and give them direct directions.
Wandering can be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or dementia, and when coupled with agitation, potential escalation is not uncommon.
“A lot of times they’re away from the house just walking and they really don’t know where they are. So that, and when you’re disoriented for whatever reason whether it’s dementia or whatever it’s a very uncomfortable feeling,” Crawford said.
Although St. Albans PD are the first to get on board, West Virginia State Police has also expressed interest in the program.
“If our first responders are aware of strategies to communicate with these folks, we just think everyone would be safer,” Morris explained.
The program is free, and any law enforcement agency that is interested can reach out to the West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association for more details.