Earlier this month, the Columbus Dispatch carried an opinion column advocating for a piece of proposed legislation that would provide first responders, including police and EMS personnel, important training on how to effectively deal with subjects suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's.
Trey Addison—who serves as the director of public policy for the Alzheimer's Association in Ohio—said in his column, "Recognizing and properly responding to the needs of individuals with dementia requires a special knowledge base."
Addison noted that one Ohio department had two calls in recent months where subjects were combative, agitated, and even physically confrontational, despite being individuals who are also potentially frail from their advanced age.
Addison believes that Ohio House Bill 23—originally introduced by state representatives Thomas West (D-Canton) and Phil Plummer (R-Dayton)—will address the demand for advanced training in dealing with these incidents in the Buckeye State.
Law enforcement can become involved with individuals with subjects suffering from Alzheimer's and dementia in a variety of circumstances, such as reports of persons:
- Exhibiting erratic driving or violating traffic laws
- Sitting in a parked car along the side of the road
- Illegally walking in a road and/or through traffic
- Difficulty interacting appropriately with others
- Inappropriately dressed (such as barefoot or naked)
Further, Alzheimer's and dementia patients are prone to wandering. Unlike some other wanderers, their destinations are very unpredictable, making locating them extraordinarily difficult. For example, individuals with Autism (ASD subjects) are also known to wander, but for reasons that are not yet fully understood, tend to gravitate toward bodies of water, giving first responders a starting point for their search when such a person goes missing.
This is not the case with Alzheimer's and dementia patients. They could end up just about anywhere, and have little or no ability to explain their presence upon arrival.
Finally, among the most difficult—and dangerous—calls to police for assistance with such individuals are domestic violence cases, usually involving a caretaker or a family member. Because Alzheimer's is a degenerative brain disease, some subjects to exhibit violent behavior such as kicking, biting, striking, or slapping other people.
Those people under attack may respond violently, leading arriving police to sort out who gets charged with what—a messy business not easily resolved at the scene.
A Nationwide Need
The proposed Ohio legislation—passed by the Ohio House last year and currently being reviewed by the Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee—appears to be a step in the right direction for dementia and Alzheimer's patients in Ohio, but the problem of police contacts with such subjects is a matter of importance in all 50 states.
According to the CDC's Alzheimer's Disease and Healthy Aging Program, as many as 5.8 million Americans were living with Alzheimer's and related dementias in 2020 (the most recent year for which such data is available). The CDC says this number is projected to nearly triple to 14 million people by 2060.
Training for contacts with individuals impacted by dementia and Alzheimer's certainly merits attention, but it also must be supported with funding that does not take away from existing law enforcement training. Existing police training budgets cannot support the addition of this type of training without the requisite financial support written into the legislation mandating any added training.
Therein—as always—lies the rub.