Aging specialists throughout Nevada were excited when the state recently mandated all first responders receive behavioral health training. This has proven particularly important since elders living with certain types of dementia may mistakenly be misdiagnosed as psychotic, drunk or — worst of all— be accused of criminal behavior.
Responding to this mandate, Dementia Friendly Southern Nevada Urban, based in Las Vegas, has produced behavioral health training that targets first responders such as police, fire, and emergency medical personnel. The free training is available to anyone online at DementiaFirstResponseNV.com. Recipients can also collect four continuing education credits.
“Our goal is to get them to understand how to diagnose, refer out, and treat if needed,” says LeeAnn Mandarino, co-facilitator for Dementia Friendly Southern Nevada Urban. “We provide needed knowledge and resources.” Mandarino, Program Manager for education, outreach, and advocacy at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, offers an example of the kind of confusion that can occur. “Imagine a man in his fifties,” she says, “whose life has suddenly fallen apart. He may lose job after job and even become homeless. His behavior may be erratic — even aggressive — and he may be arrested for the first time in his life. Yet this criminal behavior may actually be frontotemporal dementia. For many people with this form of dementia, so-called ‘criminal behavior’ is the first presentation of their brain disease.”
Another type of dementia can manifest as hallucinations. First response personnel may react to this as a psychotic episode without considering that Lewy Body dementia (LBD) may be the cause. Medicating someone with LBD with anti- psychotic medications can cause a severe reaction, temporary coma, or even death.
“When we’re able to train first responders, they can then offer the correct intervention,” says Kate Ingalsby, Mandarino’s fellow co-facilitator of Dementia Friendly Southern Nevada Urban and regional director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Desert Southwest Chapter, Southern Nevada region.
Because of the new law requiring behavioral health training, local first responders are now reaching out to Dementia Friendly Nevada, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Lou Ruvo Center to receive the needed training. Ingalsby says that that the training is particularly helpful in rural areas where access to education is limited. The first responder training developed by Dementia Friendly Southern Nevada Urban provides easy online access.
“It allows for flexibility in first responders’ busy work schedules and allows organizations additional time to spend helping clients and communities face the challenges dementia can present,” says Ingalsby.” The online training utilizes real life scenarios that help first responders recognize the signs of dementia they may encounter in any given day.”
The response to the online first responder training has been overwhelmingly positive, says Ingalsby, who believes that such a training is long overdue. “Behavioral health, including dementia, is just beginning to get the attention it deserves.”