LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - Alzheimer's disease is unpredictable.
A shoplifting call to a police officer could turn into someone with the disease just forgetting to pay for something.
That's why the Little Rock Police Department has added the training to their arsenal.
For the past year, the Arkansas Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association has armed Little Rock officers with the knowledge to help the 60,000 Arkansans who are fighting the disease, including the symptoms, how to approach patients and where to look when they're lost.
"It's very important because we're going to see more and more people as we have baby boomers reaching the age of 65," said Tina Hunter, the director of programs.
Hunter said that means police will find even more people driving and wandering the streets.
"Sometimes we're going to be the first people to deal with this individuals," said Officer Steve Moore, who participated in the one-hour course during his in-service training two weeks ago. "There's so much I don't think folks realize as law enforcement that you have to be prepared to deal with."
Officer Moore said his department gets Alzheimer's-related calls frequently. The most important thing he's learned is to get on their level.
"Understand they're reacting to whatever's going on in their head," he said. "Understand they don't want to be in this predicament that they're in. Don't just walk up on them, don't be loud, don't touch them. They startle very easily. You want to be Mr. Friendly as much as possible. Just be kind and be patient with them and try to get them back to their family."
According to the Alzheimer's Association, 911 calls related to the disease include car accidents, erratic driving, false reports, indecent exposure and shoplifting.
"More often than not, over half of my classes have had some sort of experience with someone with Alzheimer's or dimentia," Hunter said.
Moore is one of them.
"She was younger than most people that get diagnosed with it," he said.
Moore's mom has fought Alzheimer's disease for the past eight years.
"Every once in awhile, she'll see me on the news and she'll recognize me, 'Oh there's my son,'" he said. "But sometimes when I go down and see her, she takes a minute to recognize me. It's just tough. I worry because my stepfather is not a spring chicken any more and him being able to keep up with her."
Moore's mom has wandered away from home three times. Luckily, her neighbors found her and called Moore's sister, her primary caregiver.
"I think about that all the time," he said. "My mom lives about an hour from me in a rural area so the burden usually falls on my sister, who lives right down the road. So the wandering is a little more concerning because you can get lost easier and be harder to find. At least here in the city, it has its own dangers, but at least in the urban area we have more officers here that may find her."
Knowing that more and more officers will be armed with the same knowledge about the disease sets Moore's mind at ease.
"It's good to know that officers would have some kind of idea of what they're dealing with," he said.
The Arkansas Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association has also trained MEMS and Maumelle police and fire.
The training is available to all law enforcement and first responders in the state.
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