Prescott police's Alzheimer's Initiative connects patients, emergency services
PRESCOTT - There are an estimated 1,000 people with Alzheimer's and associated diseases in Prescott, said Meg Fenzi, regional director of the Alzheimer's Association.
That's why the Prescott Police Department, working with the Alzheimer's Association through grant funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance, has created a free program called its Alzheimer's Initiative to help officers and other emergency responders assist people who have Alzheimer's and related dementia as well as their families.
There are two key elements to the program, said Sgt. Ben Scott.
The first is a form, available on the Police Department's website, that a family member or other caregiver can fill out and mail back, detailing the patient's name, address, physical description, and anything else police or fire and emergency medical personnel should know about the patient.
The contents of that form are entered into the computer system at the Prescott Regional Communications Center, so dispatchers can have it at their fingertips if a call - emergency or not - comes in regarding that patient or his address, Scott said. The dispatcher can then forward that information to the mobile computers in police cars and fire engines.
That way, "they can see in their notes that there's a person who lives there that has Alzheimer's or dementia, and there are certain triggers, and it gives them a little information before they get to the scene," Scott said.
"If we were to get a 911 call from the house... and it's a domestic (disturbance) or something like that, it's nice to know" the circumstances of a situation before officers arrive, he said.
It can also mean the difference between a confrontation and a positive outcome, Fenzi said.
"Sometimes, people with these illnesses exhibit behaviors that can be misconstrued as criminal behavior," she said, and though it has not happened locally, "there have been instances where first-responders have responded inappropriately.
"These are sick people," she said, "they're not criminals."
The form, which is detailed, means that, after he's been told there's a patient at the residence, the officer can call the dispatcher back for further information.
"That disease can affect judgment and reality" as the patient perceives it, Scott said, so it's important for police to know about the medical condition.
The second element is a bracelet that the patient wears. Then, if that patient becomes confused and wanders away, he or she can be quickly identified and brought home.
It's a fairly common occurrence, Fenzi said.
"Six out of 10 people with these illnesses will wander at some point in time," she said.
"If a concerned citizen or an officer sees something that doesn't look right - maybe it's an elderly woman wearing a robe out in the middle of the night," Scott said, "she may not be able to tell where she lives or what her name is."
Police have developed a bracelet, linked to the form by a code number, to make it faster to identify patients.
Raskin's Jewelers in downtown Prescott has partnered with police to help with the bracelets.
"Raskin's will fit the bracelet - it's like a medic alert bracelet - to the person so it can't be taken off," Scott said.
The bracelet has the patient's ID number on one side and the Prescott Police non-emergency number on the other, which means anyone - not just an officer - who finds a patient wandering can call for help.
Scott stressed that neither the bracelet nor the form are public information and are not used for other police matters. "We don't use it for anything else," he said. "If there's never a call (to the address listed on the form), then it's like the form never existed."
The department had considered using some other kinds of technology, but decided that it could be construed as a privacy issue.
"When you start talking about tracking systems of any kind, and you throw the police department in, it's not appropriate," Scott said. "It sends the wrong message to the community."
Right now, the program covers only residents within Prescott's city limits, and Scott said he wasn't aware of any instances of the fledgling program being used yet, but police are signing up more people as the word gets out.
"There's still a lot of stigma, a lot of denial, and a lot of resistance among families to acknowledge or publicly embrace these things," Fenzi said.
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