A New Type Of Police Training: When The Missing Person Has Dementia

Man with dementia.
Print icon

When Officer John John of the Willimantic Police Department is dispatched with his canine partner to search for a missing person, his adrenaline begins racing and his already animated and rapid-fire way of talking amplifies.

That will be changing in some cases, however, after he attended a training on how to interact with and help people with dementia.

“I didn’t know how to approach them,” says John, who, like most officers attending the training, has had several encounters with people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. “I learned to make a better connection with the person, to lower my tone, slow it down, give simple questions and wait for an answer.

“I learned it’s also important to not get frustrated. That just makes things worse.”

Such enlightenment was precisely what Police Chief Roberto Rosado had in mind when he accepted an offer from the Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging to conduct educational sessions.

“We have a lot of public housing complexes in Willimantic and have had many calls deal for people having dementia,” Rosado says, remembering a call he was on as a patrolman involving a woman who had been out all night in a blizzard in search of milk. “They’re always in a very confused state and it’s important that the police help them, not make them more confused and upset.”

Michelle Wyman, a Hartford HealthCare Center for Healthy Aging dementia specialist, says dementia robs people of their memory and such basic skills as problem-solving and even human interaction. The challenge is that there are no physical characteristics of dementia, so people should look for behaviors such as:

  • Appearing confused.
  • Needing to be told repeatedly who you are.
  • Providing inappropriate answers.
  • Having a blank face.
  • Dressing inappropriately.

Because paranoia and anxiety are heightened in people with dementia, it’s important to approach carefully to gain their trust. This includes:

  • Approaching from the front, then standing to the side.
  • Offering a handshake.
  • Maintaining eye contact.
  • Removing distractions such as lowering the police radio or turning off the flashing lights.
  • Telling them what you’ll be doing step by step, giving them time to process the information.
  • Speaking in a calm, low voice.
  • Asking yes or no questions.
  • Repeating their answers back to clarify.

Patty O’Brian, also a dementia specialist with the Center for Healthy Aging, stresses that “dementia does not take away intelligence, it takes away function,” which may make people argumentative or act impulsively without guilt or even memory of the behavior. They may shoplift or accuse others of stealing from them. Seventy percent wander, an emergency because half risk serious injury or death if not found within 24 hours.

Officer Guillermo Rivera says he saw a man walking who looked lost. The man could not give a name or address and “seemed spaced out,” Rivera says. Having a grandmother with dementia helped the officer recognize the behavior. He drove the man around for several hours hoping something would look familiar to him.

“I’m used to them not remembering who you are so I know to take it easy with them,” he says, adding that someone finally called to report the man missing. “This class is great for anyone who has never dealt with dementia before. You would never have thought this man had dementia to just look at him.”

There are 75,000 people in Connecticut living with dementia, and 175,000 caregivers. The number, O’Brian predicts, will triple by 2050. To help protect them, she and Wyman target people who might notice signs of dementia or related problems with finances or abuse.

“We spend a lot of time reaching out to grocery store clerks, bank tellers, people like that who can spot the signs of problems,” Wyman says.

For more information on dementia, click here.   For help available through the Center for Healthy Aging at Windham Hospital, call 877.424.4641.

 


What's New


HOCC Campaign Shows High-tech Care, Close to Home

The Hospital of Central Connecticut (HOCC) launched a major marketing campaign designed to remind area residents that they have access to the region’s best doctors and most sophisticated medical care right in their backyard. Featuring documentary-style vignettes that give viewers an inside look at some of the hospital’s highest-stakes areas...


Heart of the Matter: Colchester Woman, 47, Gets Transplant

Colchester resident Cindy Sypher had already survived one heart attack. So when she started to feel strange in a similar manner while traveling to work one morning, she took it seriously. She remembers getting herself to a local urgent care center — and nothing else until she awoke on a...


Natchaug Worker Prevents Woman from Jumping Off Bridge

When you work on the frontlines in healthcare, you’re really always on duty. For Amy Gallagher, lead clinician at Natchaug Hospital’s Joshua Center Thames Valley in Norwich, that was never more apparent than on Thursday, April 12, 2018. Gallagher was driving with her 16-year-old daughter on Interstate 91 in New...

Female doctor talking to male patient.

What is External Beam Radiation Therapy?

It sounds like something dangerous or straight out of a science fiction movie, but external beam radiation therapy is one of the best and most advanced ways to treat prostate cancer. Dr. Nicole Anderson, a radiation oncologist with Backus Hospital, says external beam radiation is recommended for many patients with...


Back Pain: What Happens with Degenerative Changes?

Back pain can have many causes – and many treatments. Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network physical therapist Dan Fisher explains why evaluation by a physical therapist can help treat the pain you may be experiencing.  Q: What are some of the common conditions associated with back pain? A: The most common...


What is Peyronie’s Disease?

Peyronie’s disease is likely something something you’ve never heard of, but affects 13 percent of all men. Dr. Jared Bieniek of the Tallwood Urology and Kidney Institute is here to explain.  Q: What is Peyronie’s disease?  A: Peyronie’s disease is  a condition. It results from scar tissue or plaque that...