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West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association seeing good effects from officer training course in handling dementia patients

CHARLESTON, W.Va.— West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association Program Director for the police academy’s training in handling those with dementia says it has been beneficial so far after a year of its institution.

After Governor Jim Justice signed Senate Bill 570 into law last March, the association has been training law enforcement officers in a specially-designed course which teaches them how to identify people with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease and address matters like elder abuse.

Association Program Director Teresa Morris said while police officers are often in situations where people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and are showing erratic behavior, the signs of those dealing with dementia are sometimes not far off from that.

“Some of the behaviors with someone like that and a person with dementia can display are the same,” Morris said.

The training, which is conducted at the West Virginia State Police Academy, starts with a general lesson behind what dementia is, the various symptoms and characteristics and the different types and stages.

Morris said the program instructors then teach the officers about effective communication strategies to use with those with dementia and how to properly manage their behaviors.

She said the goal is bringing the officers to the point of understanding how to recognize the signs of dementia and how to differentiate it between someone who may be under the influence of a substance or dealing with some other type of condition, as it comes with its own set of unique characteristics.

“Sometimes these folks wonder, about 60% of people with dementia wonder at some point, meaning they can get out of their home, they can get out on the street, they might catch a cab, they may get on public transportation,” she said.

Morris said she conducts around four of these types of courses at the police academy and she said so far they seem to be fairly effective.

The courses are mandated for new officers coming into the academy but they are also offered to seasoned police officers, as well, with the addition of giving them the required credits needed to maintain their license.

“I think it’s going well, I think we’ve had good questions, we’ve had good talks about different situations, we try to talk through a couple of scenarios to where if something were to happen this is how you could maybe manage it,” Morris said.

Morris said the training has been important in giving officers the tools and knowledge needed to de-escalate a particular situation involving someone with dementia.

“These guys who are on the frontline can just be able to think, you know, maybe this elderly gentleman who is not responding and not following directions, maybe he has dementia,” said Morris.

She added that this training will also hopefully help to decrease the amount of force officers may sometimes use in such a scenario where the person is being uncooperative if it is a person with dementia.

Morris said it’s a free training course for the officers the Alzheimer’s Association uses which involves evidence-based, effective research from the National Health Institute.

According to the association, more than 6 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s. If anyone needs assistance with living with a loved one who may have the disease, you can call the 24/7 helpline at 1-800-272-3900.

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