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New Law Aims to Enhance Police Interaction with Alzheimer's Patients

Advocates for those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia say new legislation will help ensure law enforcement know how to deal with that growing segment of the population.

Legislation unanimously approved by the General Assembly was developed largely in response to an incident in Peru, Ind., in which police used a stun gun several times on an elderly Alzheimer’s patient after he became aggressive. 

Alzheimer’s Association Greater Indiana Chapter Public Policy Director Michael Sullivan says those situations can often happen because police aren’t taught to recognize and properly deal with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.  Sullivan says the training is vital because the diseases can manifest in different ways:

“Some people may become agitated and aggressive.  Others may become very passive,” Sullivan said. “Most people think of it as just purely a memory-type thing.  There’s all sorts of visual and auditory distortions.”

Alzheimer’s Association Senior Specialist Dustin Ziegler says communication is one of the most important aspects for officers dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. He says those suffering from the diseases aren’t experiencing the same world as everyone else.

“It’s not a logical world and no matter what we try to do, they’re not going to come into our world,” Ziegler said. “So a police officer needs to understand that and keep a pleasant tone of voice.”

Ziegler says patience is also key, stressing that officers need to speak slowly and constantly reassure the patient that the officer is there to help.

Brandon Smith is excited to be working for public radio in Indiana. He has previously worked in public radio as a reporter and anchor in mid-Missouri for KBIA Radio out of Columbia. Prior to that, he worked for WSPY Radio in Plano, Illinois as a show host, reporter, producer and anchor. His first job in radio was in another state capitol, in Jefferson City, Missouri, as a reporter for three radio stations around Missouri. Brandon graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism in 2010, with minors in political science and history. He was born and raised in Chicago.