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Initiative helps people with dementia, Spring Garden police chief takes part

There's a global movement to try and help people understand dementia, and it has made its way to our area

YORK COUNTY, Pa. — There's a global movement to try and help people understand dementia, how it affects people, and what to do if you encounter a person with the disease and it has made its way to our area.

It's called the Dementia Friends initiative. The concept is to create a dementia-friendly community. The chief of Spring Garden Township Police just took the course to become one and he's the first police officer in York County to get on board.

"You can't look at somebody and say, 'oh she has dementia,' it doesn't really work that way," Tina Hess, committee member of Dementia Friendly Initiative of York/Adams County, said.

It also helps to tear down some of the negative stigma associated with the disease.

"People are kind of embarrassed because of behaviors that are shown," Hess said. "Some people don't want that to be known in their families or they're feeling the pressure of having to live up to something that they were and they're not."

To become a "Dementia Friend," a person has to take a one-hour course. Spring Garden Township Police Chief George Swartz took it.

"Use short, simple, phrases," Chief Swartz said. "Make sure that you repeat the question and given that individual time to process. We recognize that dementia is not part of the aging process, it's actually a disease."

According to the Alzheimer's Association, 60% of people with dementia will wander off. Chief Swartz said encountering a police officer might be one of the scariest things they go through.

"In a lot of those cases we really didn't know how to approach that individual," Chief Swartz said. "We really didn't know how to communicate."

Some of the basic signs of dementia to look out for:

  • Inability to problem solve
  • No eye contact
  • Loss of words
  • confusion with time and place

So far, 127 businesses in York and Adams County have committed to becoming "Dementia Friends."

"We really want to be able to look at the abilities that people have," Hess said. "Not from a negative aspect and looking at their disabilities or things that they can't do anymore."

Chief Swartz said he plans on getting the rest of his 20 police officers trained to become a "Dementia Friend" in the near future.

If you're interested in taking the course, visit their website.