Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending sessions of our state legislature. I am a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association and also the facilitator of my local support group and I am devoted to all causes that will help those who have this horrendous disease and those who are caregivers and family members. Our agenda included legislation to ensure that caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias are included in explanations and instructions when the loved one is released from the hospital. Sometimes those with these cognitive impairments are simply permitted to drive home (scary!) or placed in a taxi (maybe scarier) to head home in confusion. With instructions that make no sense and an unsettled, unclear mind, who knows what dangers may lurk.
A second bill protects cognitively impaired elders from financial abuse by guardians. Other bills focused on protecting those with dementia from negligence and exploitation by caregivers and to strengthen the penalties related to these offenses. I cannot even imagine such terrible behavior in caregivers but I know that the number of people who prey on those who are unable to make wise decisions or to protect themselves is astronomical.
We were also there to support the encouragement of dementia-related training for health care providers, first responders, and workers in skilled nursing facilities. Having worked on part of this proposal I wish we could have been more forceful. The word encourage means urge, foster, persuade, and nurture all of which are nice verbs and kind responses but they mean nothing as far action is concerned. I felt like I needed to don my old cheerleader uniform and perform cartwheels and rallying cries as I “encouraged” this critical need. Team members assured me that this is an essential first step toward legislation, however, since Nevada convenes every other year, 2017 is a long way off. In the meantime thousands of individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will suffer needlessly.
Suppose a loved one is out wandering and is spotted by an untrained patrol officer. The wanderer, in cognitive confusion or misunderstanding, may refuse to comply with orders to “Halt” or “Place your hands on your head”. Fear may lead to running, verbal or physical attacks, or other displays provoked by bewilderment and muddled thought processing. Handcuffs might create wild terror; being shoved into a police care may render the victim to kicking, screaming, and biting. “What is your name?” may draw a blank stare. “Where do you live?” may invoke tears. A trained office would know to approach with calm as s/he reads the eyes and demeanor and understands why simple questions made no sense, using gentleness rather than force.
As it is, on this last bill, I must restrain my eagerness and work to ease my worry as I work to educate friends, my community, and my state in the wisdom of educating everyone about Alzheimer’s disease. As the number one killer in the United States and with over 5 million diagnosed cased of a disease with no cure, no prevention, and no reversal, we all must sit up and take notice and then move into action for education and training. We will all be safer.