Barbara Caudle, regional director of Colorado's chapter of the Alzheimer's Association, points to ways of helping identify someone with dementia:
• Most are over 65, though the disorder can strike younger people in their 30s, 40s and 50s;
• A blank or confused facial expression;
• Not dressed appropriately for the weather;
• An unbalanced gait or a shuffle;
• Unsafe actions, such as walking on a highway or appearing uninvited in a stranger's backyard.
Caudle acknowledges first responders must consider their personal safety, but recommends a course of action that goes by the acronym TALK:
Take it slow: Approach the person slowly and speak slowly.
Ask simple questions: Use questions with one word answers and be patient when waiting for a response.
Limit reality checks: Avoid correcting the person if he or she answers the question incorrectly.
Keep eye contact: Eye contact and good non-verbal communication will help put the person at ease.
"Avoid arguing with the confused person," she says, "and consider agreeing with them. Validate their feelings. While there are no guaranteed responses, an officer who needs to take someone in might try saying, 'I see what you mean. Come with me down to the station so that we can file a report,' or 'I'm here to help you. Let's go somewhere safer where we can talk.'"
Caudle also says due to the rising number of individuals who will develop Alzheimer's in Colorado in the future, the Alzheimer's Association of Colorado has put together plans to increase training to law enforcement officers, as well as other first responders. For example, the Colorado Springs office is participating in training for El Paso County 911 dispatchers this month and hopes to offer more training throughout the year.
The association also offers a 24/7 helpline at 1-800-272-3900, classes and workshops, a speakers bureau, caregiver support groups, a website (alz.org/co) and MedicAlert+Safe Return and Comfort Zone safety services. For more information, call the helpline.