by Rachel K. Hindery
River Forest police officials last week put on two pairs of gloves, dark glasses and headphones in a training session meant to simulate some of the effects of dementia.
Police Chief James O’Shea and others from the department took part in the Dementia Live Experience session. The River Forest Fire Department already participated in the training, and River Forest Public Library staff will soon participate.
“The Dementia Live training offered us the opportunity to experience in a similar way what these patients are experiencing,” O’Shea said of a program he described as “educational,” “humbling” and “reality-based.”
In January, River Forest became the fifth Illinois community to be designated Dementia Friendly. Training is one part of the initiative.
Right at Home Vice President Jim Wojciechowski and Lana Hatchett, a community relations manager for West Central Chicagoland, helped run the training.
Officers tried to complete common tasks, such as opening a magazine to a certain page, while their senses of sight, hearing and touch are dimmed.
When Wojciechowski asked participants how they felt, they used words like “frustrated,” “confused” and “aggravated,” but also described feeling even greater “empathy,” “understanding” and “patience” toward people with dementia.
“On one hand, you have to protect our community,” Wojciechowski said to the officers. “On the other hand, you have to love them like they’re your own mom or dad.”
Wojciechowski shared dementia statistics, as well as examples where police officers used their knowledge and compassion to help people with dementia.
Hatchett also shared advice on how to talk with a person who has dementia. “Never say ‘don’t you remember,’ ” she said. “Always go where they’re at, and keep empathy in your heart.”
“Every day, the officers are engaging in community and problem policing strategies with community outreach and caretaking occurring to improve quality of life and the safety of our residents,” O’Shea said. “Dementia Live and other related training gives the department the skill set needed to respond to or self-initiate positive interaction with residents in need of assistance.”
The River Forest Police Department is also implementing other best practices, he said. For example, “our officers are honored to have a red identification bracelet program, which helps get residents back to their loved ones and allows officers to immediately identify an individual who is managing dementia or Alzheimer’s,” O’Shea said.
Helen Kwan, a health policy and long-term care consultant, initiated Dementia Friendly River Forest efforts. When someone in River Forest or their loved one has dementia, “we want them to know they’re not alone,” Kwan said.
In the future, after collecting data on the number of police calls related to dementia, Kwan says River Forest will create a corps of “volunteers who would be willing to have dementia training and accompany the police on calls that are related to caregiving stress and anxiety or cognitive impairment.”
Lana Hatchett, a Right at Home community relations manager for West Central Chicagoland, explains Dementia Live Experience to River Forest Police Department members at a training activity on March 21. The training is part of the Dementia Friendly River Forest Initiative. (Rachel K. Hindery/Pioneer Press)
Concordia University Chicago associate professor of gerontology Lydia Manning said her colleagues have “offered to spearhead evaluation efforts for Dementia Friendly River Forest” through creating surveys and hosting focus groups.
“We will look at changes in stigma concerning dementia and improved awareness about dementia and their care partners within the community,” Manning said.
Wojciechowski said he’s noticed that stigma.
“One of the challenges that we find with families and even with people who work with people who have dementia is denial, especially in families,” he said. “They want to keep it a secret.”
A Right at Home colleague, Mike Steiner, helped Grayslake achieve Dementia Friendly status, and Wojciechowski said they learned about Dementia Live Experience from another colleague.
“We are always looking for good tools not only to train our staff but to be a public service,” he said.
Rachel K. Hindery is a freelance reporter for Pioneer Press.