In wake of violent Loveland incident, Steamboat police participate in dementia training
After Loveland Police Department officers violently arrested a woman with dementia, the Steamboat Spring Police Department and other police departments around the state have begun conducting trainings with the Alzheimer’s Association about how to work with community members who have dementia.
“I want to make sure my officers have all the tools they need for success in every encounter,” said Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen. “We’re always happy to get more tools in our tool box.”
Angel Hoffman, regional director for the Northern Colorado chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, said dementia symptoms can often mirror signs of intoxicated driving and other criminal behavior, which can confuse law enforcement.
“Someone might seem disoriented or confused, and they might have a really hard time with word finding,” Hoffman said. “They might even seem belligerent.”
Hoffman also said it is important that first responders, who are trying to act immediately and combat potential danger, understand a dementia patient is not a threat and deserves to be treated as someone experiencing a mental health crisis, rather than as a criminal creating danger.
“It can be hard when you’re a first responder trying to figure out quickly what’s going on,” Hoffman said. “It can, at times, look like a severe mental health episode.”
Christensen said officers do have regular interactions with dementia patients, and he expects interactions will continue as the community continues to age.
“More and more, it’s one of those things where unless you’re looking for it, you don’t always know what you’re encountering,” he said.
Christensen said officers were dispatched in April to a local business whose employees said a woman stole several items from the business. After speaking with the woman, officers were able to determine she had Alzheimer’s. They then contacted her family and got her help without issuing an arrest or criminal charges.
“This community expects public safety,” Christensen said. “They want us to keep the community safe, and that’s learning new skills and working with our undeserved populations.”
Melissa Lahay, director of marketing at Casey’s Pond, said she believes it’s “incredibly important” for first responders to receive training on how to work with Alzheimer’s patients, because many people may not know how to properly show compassion and care.
“Being able to react to someone and interact with someone that is living with that disease takes someone with skills and training,” Lahay said. “That can be scary for them, and they need someone to recognize that and treat someone with respect, and the right way to communicate is really important.”
While the training is specifically for first responders, Lahay and Hoffman said they encourage community members, particularly people with Alzheimer’s patients in their families, to educate themselves on how the disease manifests in different people and how the community can help.
“As community members, when we’re talking about what the community at large can do, we can educate ourselves on what dementia looks like,” Hoffman said. “What are some signs that we might see out in the community that might make us more aware.”
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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