Daniel J Vance

The telephone of Gary Leblanc has been ringing off the hook. He’s been hearing from the Alzheimer’s Society (Canada) and dementia-related organizations in New Zealand, Australia, and across the United States.

Leblanc reads this column in the Hernando Today (Fla.) newspaper, and writes a weekly newspaper column about dementia. Until his father’s death from Alzheimer’s disease four years ago, he was the primary caregiver.

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Here’s why the telephone rings: Over the last year, Leblanc, the Alzheimer’s Association Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, and Brooksville (Fla.) Regional Hospital have developed a desperately needed, first-in-the-nation pilot program to help hospital personnel become better educated about and provide necessary safeguards in hospitals for patients with dementia.

Said Leblanc, “The program came about because of family complaints. I have been contacted by thousands of people who’ve told horror stories about the care their family members (with dementia) have received in (medical facilities).”

Their pilot program, the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Project, has three main parts: training all hospital staff, first responders, and hospital volunteers on how to initially assess, approach, manage, and interact towards patients with dementia; tagging the wrist of patients with dementia with a special “purple angel” wristband to help hospital workers better identify them; and providing trained “sitters” to help give family members of patients with dementia an occasional in-hospital respite. Leblanc said procedures like this should have been implemented nationwide years ago.

He gave one example of many why this new program was needed nationwide: “Many hospital staff (untrained about dementia) will ask a patient with dementia what medication they are taking and the staff person takes the patient’s word for it. But in our training, we teach the staff they have to first verify with a relative, spouse or advocate what medication the patient’s taking. The patients worrying me most are the ones coming alone from nursing facilities to hospitals (for non-dementia health issues.) They have nobody who can explain for them that they have dementia.”
He said the “purple angel” wristband was crucial to helping staff quickly identify patients with dementia wandering the hospital. It also helps prevent patients from prematurely signing themselves out of the hospital without the family being notified, and from deciding on important medical decisions while in hospital, such as whether to have surgery or take pain medications.

If I were a hospital administrator, I would be calling Leblanc to learn more.

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