Training helps North Branch police, first responders recognize signs of dementia
North Branch’s police department and first responders are taking steps to make sure they can identify signs of dementia in the residents they serve.
They are involved in training that is being supported by North Branch’s ACT on Alzheimer’s in partnership with Chisago County's Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP).
In the most recent round of state funding, SHIP added a focus on the health of seniors and is supporting efforts by grantees that help delay the onset or progression of dementia.
Creating a dementia-friendly community
The work in North Branch is part of an engagement process to raise awareness about dementia and help the community become more dementia-friendly. As the efforts progress, Chisago County SHIP will determine which SHIP strategies in active living, healthy eating or smoke-free living it will pursue for residents over 60.
The training is designed to assist officers and first responders to recognize Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, recognize those at risk, improve interactions with them and their caregivers and develop better operational search-and-rescue policies and procedures.
In one incident before the training was available in Chisago County an officer from another local agency (not North Branch’s police department) stopped a car going the wrong way on an area highway. The elderly driver explained to the officer that he was lost. He was given directions and allowed to drive off.
“That man had dementia,” said Gina Lind, admission specialist for Ecumen and a member of Chisago County’s SHIP Community Leadership Team. “(At the time of the traffic stop) his family was working to get his license taken away. That isn’t to say that either the officer or the man did anything wrong.
“It was a potentially dangerous situation that could’ve been prevented if the officer had the Alzheimer’s/dementia recognition training,” she said.
Rates of dementia expected to grow
Currently in Minnesota, an estimated 89,000 adults, age 65 and older, have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That number is expected to grow to 120,000 by 2025.
“Over my 17-plus year career, I have personally seen the department responding to more and more incidents involving people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” said Dan Meyer, North Branch’s police chief.
“We can teach our law enforcement team and first responders to recognize someone with dementia,” Lind said. “This gives them the resources to de-escalate situations, and that is a powerful, life-impacting resource.”
Efforts like this reflect SHIP’s work to help Minnesotans live healthier lives and reduce health care costs through low-cost, preventive strategies. SHIP's added focus on dementia supports that goal by helping seniors improve their health status and delay or slow the progression of dementia.