Firefighters get extra training on dealing with dementia

(Source: KAIT-TV)
(Source: KAIT-TV)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Jonesboro firefighters train on how to quickly respond to life and death situations.

But what happens when you show up to an emergency and the person you're trying to help doesn't understand.

Representatives with UAMS Center on Aging Northeast held a series of classes at the Jonesboro Fire Department Jan. 9 through 11.

Samantha Hollis with UAMS Center on Aging Northeast said this started with a nationwide program.

"They have started a nationwide program called Dementia Friendly America," Hollis said. "Our part in that is Dementia Friendly Arkansas. We thought the first responders would be a really good avenue to start with because they are first line on the scene. Whether it be a wreck or just a medical call. They are the ones there first seeing these things and can talk to family members about it."

Hollis said the classes began with basic knowledge of the disease and then built on what to do.

"We've been training the Jonesboro Fire Department as first responders about dementia awareness," Hollis said. "We do the overview and diagnosis of dementia, kind of about the disease process. Then the second half we do behaviors you commonly see and then communication techniques."

Hollis said they wanted to help firefighters learn how to determine what was wrong and what to do.

"There are three stages," Hollis said. "The initial, middle and late stage. In initial stages, it may start with just short memory problems. Once it goes on to the later stages we see wandering and then sun downing. A lot of times you'll see that. You'll see agitation. And that's one thing we're talking to them about too. Is how to become an investigator. To ask them questions and kind of get into their world and not just argue with them and say this isn't real. You're not seeing bugs in your bed. And how to deescalate the situation."

Hollis said the first and most important thing a first responder can do to help the situation is know how to approach them.

"Obviously, if it's a fire they're going to grab them and get them out as quickly as possible," Hollis said. "But maybe on a medical call when they're trying to deescalate or maybe even a wreck. You know you're trying to get somebody out. We've talked to them about approaching the person from the front so you don't startle them. You want to get down on eye level with them. That way they can see your facial expressions. When older people have arthritis, they might be hunched over and all they can see is your body when you walk up. And so, if you can get down on their level with them and ask to approach them in their space. Because we all have our personal bubbles. Look them eye to eye and they can see your facial expressions. They can see and understand your nice and here to help them. That's one thing a lot of time will help so much."

Other tips are to be sure to smile at them, put your hand up as if to say hello and introduce yourself.

Wait for them to respond.

If you don't understand them, smile and agree.

Tell them you're sorry they're upset and ask what you can do to help.

Use a guiding handhold to move beside the lost person and begin to guide them in the direction you want them to go.

Dehydration can happen quickly and can cause delirium or cause dementia symptoms to worsen. Offer the person some water once they're in a safe location.

Loose change, a deck of cards or silly bands can help keep a person occupied while you work on getting them to safety. Ask them to sort items based on color, suit or number.

5.3 million Americans are diagnosed with dementia.

"These people don't just stay at home," Hollis said. "In the early stages they go to Wal Mart and to the bank. They do what needs to be done. And so, that's our target. To hit every single person in the community that could possibly help these people."

Hollis said they spoke to nearly 100 firefighters.

An additional class for law enforcement officers and EMT's will take place Feb. 15 and 16 at St. Bernard's Auditorium in Jonesboro.

For more information, call the UAMS Center on Aging Northeast at (870) 207-7595.

Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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