Frederick County is well on its way to becoming a dementia-friendly community, as County Executive Jan Gardner has decided to send more than 440 first responders from the Division of Fire and Rescue Services to training on living with dementia.
This is an excellent first step in teaching all county employees, and indeed all first responders, to understand the effects and frustrations of residents suffering from dementia.
The county’s 65-and-over population is about 35,000, and the Maryland Department of Planning projects that it will more than double by 2040, to 74,720 people.
It is a sad fact that as the senior population grows, the number of residents suffering with dementia will grow with it, since dementia is largely a disease of the elderly.
The county’s training program is called Dementia Live, and it is a training session that will give participants a taste of what it might be like to live with dementia. The Senior Services Division started the program in late 2018, and offers it at the senior centers around the county.
Here is how it works, according to a recent News-Post article by reporter Heather Mongilio:
Mary Collins and Mindy Lohman-Hinz, who run the training sessions, give each participant a pair of glasses that almost eliminate peripheral vision, headphones that blast loud background noise, and thick gloves to take away the sense of touch.
They then give tasks to each person to complete. The headphones play loud noises, such as a train, while Collins or Lohman-Hinz distribute the tasks, making it difficult to hear what they are saying. The eyeglasses shrink the world of the trainee, much as real vision loss would, and the gloves make handling ordinary items a clumsy chore.
All in all, according to those who have gone through the training, it can be a sobering experience.
Lenne Stolberg, battalion chief of training in the Division of Fire and Rescue Services, told our reporter that training frustrates people as they try to remember the tasks and complete them. It is that frustration and difficulty that the training emphasizes, allowing the participants to better understand what a person with dementia experiences, he said.
For the first responders, the goal is to allow them to better understand dementia, which will lead them to adapt how they respond to calls from or about someone with the brain disease.
“It’s one thing to understand how to treat what they called us for,” Stolberg said. “It’s another thing to understand how to put them at ease.”
A call to a first responder to come to help a resident with dementia can be one of the most combustible interactions between citizens and safety officers. The dementia patient might appear angry or belligerent, or may be unable to explain what has happened or why.
Dementia patients might easily be mistaken for someone who is aggressive or violent. And a patient who has access to a weapon could harm themselves or others, or be wounded or even killed by police.
The dementia training should be mandatory for all first responders — including city police, county sheriff’s deputies and state troopers.
It can literally save lives.