WV Alzheimer’s Association offers ‘Dementia Training’ for first responders

Monongalia and Preston

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association is offering dementia training for the state’s first responders to help in their interactions with the elderly.

Its Program Director, Teresa Morris, said the free series of educational programs will deal with effective communication strategies and dementia behaviors. Sharon M. Covert, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association West Virginia Chapter, said dementia training for West Virginia’s first responders is essential to developing a dementia-friendly workforce. Morris said they have already partnered with the town of St. Albans and its police department.

Teresa Morris

Their city actually has a little sticker that they can put inside their home, kind of on the back of their door, so if there is a call and they get in the house they can look and see if there is a person living with dementia in the home. You know, because sometimes you don’t — when you’re making a 911 call, you might not relay that information. But overall, if our first responders have a better understanding of the disease and a better understanding of how to communicate, really not only with someone with dementia, but anyone may be in an escalated state, then I think they can more effectively manage the situation. 

Teresa Morris – Program Director WV Alzheimer’s Association

In order to get as many first responders certified, the West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association is offering training in two forms. One way is to go online and sign up for an online course that first responders can complete at their own pace.

The second way is live training.

During the bulk of the pandemic, Morris said, classes have been virtual. But as the pandemic eases, she said, “hopefully” they can return to in-person training sessions. Regardless, whether first responders choose the online route or in-person learning, they will receive a certificate of completion.

“First responders and folks should know that our services are free of charge,” Morris said. “They were developed with first responders, so we hope that they are very well thought out in terms of what their needs are. Our services — or our programs rather are evidence-based, so we know that they work.”

Morgantown’s Public Safety Building, home of Morgantown Police Department

Other than St. Alban’s, the West Virginia Alzheimer’s Association has been in contact with the West Virginia State Police. Morris said now is a “good time to push” for certifying the state police and whomever else responds to calls involving the elderly.

“I’m not for sure if you’ve heard about the incident in Colorado in June where a lady with dementia — she walked out of Walmart with like $13.00 worth of stuff and two police officers saw her walking across a field. She couldn’t answer their questions. She kept going and subsequently, they ended up putting her on the ground like hogtying her ankles and she ended up with a dislocated shoulder, a fractured arm and a sprained wrist. So, once we saw that, we felt like that we really needed to start pushing this out,” said Morris.

Morris said the push to get first responders certified was delayed by the pandemic, they were hoping to get back to in-person sessions.

Monongalia Co. Sheriff’s Department

“But after hearing that, we just feel like that we really need to make a bigger push right now,” Morris said.

Morris, again, reiterated that the training is evidence-based and rooted in research. She said first responders will come out of it more prepared to handle calls involving someone with dementia.

“There’s research behind our programs and this training was also supported by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, which is in the Office of Justice Programs, so we have a pretty good backing with that,” Morris said. “It’s a pretty legit program, I believe. And you know, I just think it’s important as our world changes and situations change. And it seems we’re in a very volatile environment right now. I just think it’s just important that first responders get this training and that that, hopefully, they can better react if the situation ever presents itself.” 


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