Police officers will receive training in communicating with people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as part of a partnership between the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association and the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter, the groups announced during a press conference outside the state Capitol Wednesday.

There are 5.4 million people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s, including 70,000 in Connecticut, and the numbers are expected to grow as the population ages.

The Alzheimer’s Association staff has been certified by the Police Officer Standards and Training Council to provide trainings to police, giving them information on how to approach people with dementia, how to recognize abuse or neglect, and how to account for people with dementia in disaster planning.

Granby Police Chief David Watkins said the training will help officers understand what to do if, for example, a driver they stop responds in unusual ways.

Police learn how to do a quick assessment to see if a person might have dementia, and learn to be aware that younger people can get Alzheimer’s, said Carolyn DeRocco, the Alzheimer’s Association’s senior director of programs and education, who leads police training.

When talking to someone with dementia, police should go slow, maintain eye contact, ask simple questions and limit reality checks–meaning to not spend time arguing if a person says something that does not reflect reality, she said.

The association is also trying to make police more aware of bracelets and necklaces that can identify someone as having Alzheimer’s. As part of the association’s Safe Return program, some people with the disease wear medic alert bracelets or necklaces that are linked to a national database and can help identify them if they get lost. The association has given each police chief in the state a poster showing what the bracelets and necklaces look like, and is giving each department samples so officers will be more likely to recognize them when they see a person wearing one.

The partnership is also aimed at coordinating information between police and families and caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s. Watkins said that when people with Alzheimer’s or dementia wander and go missing, families often spend a great deal of time searching on their own, only calling police when it gets dark or when weather turns bad. Instead, he said, they should call police immediately.

In addition, police can refer families to the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24-hour helpline, 800-272-3900.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who said her mother had Alzheimer’s, said the program will increase the safety of people with the disease and the peace of mind of their families and caregivers. “This partnership will make a bad situation better,” she said.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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