TROY — This year, Troy Fire Chief Matthew Simmons said his department has experienced an increased number of emergency medical service calls involving older adults with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
“During the year of COVID we have had more interactions with the elderly – depressed on the low end or stressed on the high end,” Chief Simmons said. He added that 80 to 85 percent of the department’s calls involve people 70 years old and older. Now he is seeing more adults with dementia who are agitated.
In two recent calls, patients with dementia were combative, agitated and swung at the EMS/paramedic, Simmons said.
“When we are dealing with patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia it does elevate the nature of the call,” Simmons said.
He recognized that his staff needed more training on how to communicate and de-escalate situations. So, he took the advice of a family member of one of those patients and called the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter. On April 13, 14, and 15, his staff was trained by Alzheimer’s Association staff on effective communication strategies.
“It couldn’t come at a better time in my opinion,” Simmons said.
In Ohio, 220,000 individuals 65 years old and older live with Alzheimer’s disease, which is a form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, national statistics show that six in 10 individuals with dementia will wander. That fact alone is a potential for 132,000 interactions between someone living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and an Ohio first responder.
Wandering is just one symptom of Alzheimer’s. When coupled with agitation and other behavioral symptoms, it only increases the chances of an unintended and potentially dangerous interaction between Ohio’s most vulnerable and a first responder.
Simmons said the Troy Fire Department has chemical and physical restraints to use in situations like that but “it doesn’t mean we have to use them.”
“We are not the experts at everything. When we have the opportunity to partner with people who are the experts we are going to do that,” Simmons said.
The Alzheimer’s Association in Ohio has worked with former Montgomery County Sheriff and State Rep. Phil Plummer, R-Dayton, and Rep. Thomas West, D-Canton, who introduced legislation that requires enhanced dementia training for first responders. House Bill 23 is awaiting a vote in the full Ohio House of Representatives.
While the legislation is pending, the Association continues to work with police and fire departments around the state to provide education. In Cincinnati, the Alzheimer’s Association is one of several community partners brought together as part of a three-year $150,000 grant benefitting the Cincinnati Police Department to develop additional training and to use technology to better serve individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism and developmental disabilities.
The police department will create a two-day training curriculum that will educate personnel to indicators, response options, behavioral tendencies and interpersonal skills related to persons experiencing dementia or developmental disabilities. The department plans to identify 25 officers to receive the training and then they will be designated as primary responders to those types of calls. Another goal is to develop a policy and procedure that addresses police response and investigation of missing individuals with dementia and developmental disabilities.
Lt. Adam Hennie, Cincinnati Police Academy Commander, said the goal is to reduce the number of injuries and death in individuals with dementia and developmental disabilities in the Greater Cincinnati area. While he said he was not aware of an increase in cases, “you always want to be proactive and don’t want to be reactive. I know the command staff always embraces innovative training such as this.”
Trey Addison, director of State Public Policy for the Alzheimer’s Association in Ohio, said, “Dementia training for Ohio’s first responders is essential to developing a dementia friendly workforce. Ohio is becoming a leader on Alzheimer’s and Dementia. The Alzheimer’s Association’s support of HB 23 comes from our experience in serving Ohioans living with dementia and the concerns that their caregivers have if their loved one wanders and has an encounter with a first responder. HB 23 is proactive legislation, that will equip Ohio’s new generation of first responders with the tools they need to help individuals living with dementia and put dementia caregivers at ease.”
Simmons said the local training provided by the Association will be great because they have a lot of newer and younger personnel. Ultimately, “you want to treat everyone like they are your loved one,” Simmons said.