The Connecticut Police Chiefs Association and the Alzheimer’s Association announced Wednesday that they’ve developed training for police officers to help them recognize the disease during traffic stops, in the community, and when locating individuals who may have wandered away from their home.
Redding Police Chief Douglas Fuchs, the head of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, said the training they developed emphasizes “talk tactics.”
“Take it slow, ask simple questions, limit reality checks, and keep eye contact,” Fuchs said describing the manner in which an officer should approach a person with dementia at a traffic stop.
Waterford Police Chief Murray Pendleton said today seniors are driving longer than ever before and it’s important to recognize age-related changes can impact their ability to drive safely.
“In the early stages of dementia it may be alright to drive,” Pendleton said. “However, as the disease worsens it may become dangerous or even possibly deadly.”
He said law enforcement recognizes a person’s right to drive is a quality of life measure for many, especially in more rural communities. And he said the police chiefs are willing to work with families and communities to develop viable transportation options.
“Licensing decisions should not be based solely on being diagnosed with a disease, nor simply by age,” Pendleton said. “In recognizing our responsibility to all drivers, it’s incumbent upon us all as law enforcement officers and first responders to ensure drivers possess the required skills needed to drive a car safely.”
Patty O’Brian, of the Alzheimer’s Association who worked on developing the training program, said while many with Alzheimer’s are in their 80s or 90s there are also some folks who experience it as early as their 40s or 50s.
“When you stop a 40 year old and you’re looking at them never in your mind does it come, ‘Well he may have a dementia‘,” O’Brian said. “So we’re really hoping to bring that awareness across the state with our police chiefs and their officers.”
There are 70,000 people in Connecticut diagnosed with the disease.
The training and the partnership between the police chiefs and the Alzheimer’s Association started last year after Pendleton and Granby Police Chief David Watkins returned from a national conference in Florida where they talked about these issues.
When they returned they gave the Alzheimer’s Association a call and the training program and partnership were born.
Carolyn DeRocco of the Alzheimer’s Association also stressed the importance of the medical alert and safe return bracelets that let people know someone has the disease. She said police have also been given samples of the bracelets so they know if they come across an individual wearing one.
Instead of being red like other medical alert bracelets, these bracelets are purple.
Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman applauded the group’s efforts and congratulated them on their partnership.
Wyman, whose late mother had Alzheimer’s, said as the disease progresses a person’s ability will change.
“So situations that are not a concern today will become potential safety issues in the future. That is why this program is so important,” Wyman said. “Not only to better educate the public and the first responders but to increase the safety of patients and the piece of mind of their families.”