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Teresa L. Morris, program director for the WV Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, speaks to Putnam Rotary about the Dementia Friendly St. Albans initiative on Feb. 25.

Teresa L. Morris, program director for the state chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, spoke to Putnam Rotary on Feb. 25 about the city of St. Albans’ efforts to train first responders in assisting dementia patients. This is a synopsis of that discussion.

A policeman in St. Albans checked a call reporting a stranger in a home. He found the man relaxed in a recliner with a TV remote in hand.

From recent training through the Alzheimer’s Association, the officer recognized the signs of dementia.

The stranger had gone for a walk. He became confused. He thought he was back in his own home.

“I talked with him,” the policeman said. “I got into his reality. I got into where he was. If it’s 1935, then it’s 1935.

“We took a walk and figured out where we were. I got him back to the right house.

“Without the dementia training, I might have handled this much differently,” he said. “I might have gone in with aggressive force.”

St. Albans is the first city in West Virginia to undertake a community program of dementia awareness, Teresa Morris told Putnam Rotarians this morning.

First responders and city workers have been through formal training, she said. Over 12 businesses have participated.

People in St. Albans are able to register with law enforcement, said Morris, who is program director for the state chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. When police answer a call, they know whether a resident at that address has dementia issues.

Other communities have shown interest in the program, said Morris. “We all want to help people ‘who tend to wander,’ and deal with other problems related to dementia.

“In West Virginia, 38,000 people deal with some form of dementia,” said Morris. “Less than half [of those who need help] are diagnosed. We probably have closer to 80,000.”

Dementia is the sixth-leading cause of death, she said. In America, 5.8 million people are living with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.

“From 2020 to 2017, deaths from heart disease had decreased by nine percent,” she said. “But death from Alzheimer’s had increased 145 percent.

“One in three seniors die with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. It kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

“Why not talk about it? I think sometimes it’s due to the stigma of the disease.

“Back in the day, someone might be confused. The doctor would say, ‘Well, it’s just a normal part of aging. They’re getting old.’

“But, really, they had had a heart attack or a stroke. That patient might have had Alzheimer’s and not known it. And then there were complicating factors.”

Dementia problems may strike at any age, she added. “Only 16 percent have memory checked regularly.

“Our organization is volunteer-led,” said Morris. “Most of our work is through volunteers. We need volunteers in the office. We’re trying to get the word out.”

St. Albans Vice Mayor Walter Hall, a Rotarian and former Assistant District Governor, says a committee for Dementia Friendly St. Albans has been working on this project for three years. He invites people interested in their work to contact him at 304-552-6547.

The West Virginia Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association is located at 1601 2nd Ave., Charleston. It can be reached by calling 304-343-2717 or by going online to alz.org/wv.

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