VOICES: Enhanced dementia training is critical for Ohio’s first responders

Chief Matthew Simmons, Troy Fire Department (CONTRIBUTED)

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Chief Matthew Simmons, Troy Fire Department (CONTRIBUTED)

Ohio’s police and emergency first responders face various daily, complex challenges serving our communities. However, one challenge that does not often get much public attention is the growing number of interactions between our first responders and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia.

Recognizing and adequately responding to the needs of individuals with dementia requires a particular knowledge base, especially during times of emergency. With the arrival of COVID, many of our departments in Ohio are reporting a higher number of interactions with the senior community, including those with dementia.

I recently noted that more than 80 percent of our department’s calls now involve residents age 70 and older. A large percentage of these calls are to the six nursing/assisted-living facilities located within our response area. Last year, during two separate 911 calls, Troy’s firefighter/paramedics responded to assist patients with dementia who were agitated and combative. After assessing these incidents and how the calls were handled, I recognized that my staff needed more training to communicate and de-escalate these situations more suitably.

I believe Ohio House Bill 23, originally introduced by State Reps. Thomas West (D-Canton) and Phil Plummer (R-Dayton), will address providing first responders, including police and EMS personnel, essential dementia training.

HB23 was overwhelmingly passed by the Ohio House last year and is in review by the Senate Veterans and Public Safety Committee. This legislation is crucial for Ohio. So many of our senior citizens are dealing with health challenges and the added problem of isolation, which at times leads to delays in care or diagnoses.

For the sake of the estimated 220,000 Ohioans with Alzheimer’s disease and their caregivers and families, I urge the Ohio Senate to pass HB23 and further improve the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s - both today and in the future.

Chief Matthew Simmons works for the Troy Fire Department.

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