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Loveland PD accepts Alzheimer's Association's offer to help train officers on how to spot dementia

Offer tendered following police cam video release
Alzheimer's Association
Posted at 10:54 PM, Apr 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-18 01:44:11-04

DENVER -- Police cam video showing the arrest of a 73-year old shoplifting suspect with dementia has sparked a passionate response among Denver7 viewers and a lawsuit against Loveland Police.

The suit claims Officer Austin Hopp body-slammed Karen Garner, and that she suffered multiple injuries during the arrest.

Hopp is heard saying, "Why did you do that? I told you to stop. You don't get to act this way."

When Amelia Schafer of the Alzheimer's Association saw the video, she reached out to Loveland PD with an offer to help train officers on how to spot dementia, and on what techniques they can use to affect a different outcome.

She said the department accepted the offer.

"When people are able to understand that someone with Alzheimer's or Dementia are confused, there are some very specific communication tips that we recommend to help de-escalate the situation," she said. "We've seen them work."

She noted that Garner initially paid attention to Hopp's command, and then turned around and continued walking.

"Being able to understand when someone is not following a command -vs- not understanding a command, is key," she said. "The officer told her to stop. She stopped, but then she kept going. That's not uncommon with someone with Alzheimer's or Dementia."

The non-profit's online course, called Approaching Alzheimer's can help identify the disease and help officers, and other first responders, efficiently and effectively respond to calls involving a person with Dementia.

It includes an interactive map with six topics:

  • Briefing
  • Driving
  • Wandering
  • Disaster Response
  • Shoplifting
  • Abuse & Neglect

Schafer said the officer in the training video's shoplifting scenario paused, saw there wasn't a threat and started to talk to the woman.

"He asked where she was going and where she lived," Schafer said. "Simple questions that can show she was much more confused than a typical older adult."

The training video encourages first responders to "take it slow, approach from the front, ask simple questions and hear from other first responders to learn how to best respond to these types of calls."

Schafer said it's important to understand the threat level.

"If there's not an immediate threat, (the first responder) can help de-escalate that situation, and in many cases actually work with the store, if there was a shoplifting, to say let's talk about how we can handle this situation," she added. "Sometimes families get involved."

Schafer said they've seen some really good outcomes from the training, which was devised by law enforcement and first responders who have had to deal with loved ones coping with dementia, or who have had on the job experience dealing with similar situations.

She said anyone can take the online course.

"It's really an eye opener for people to understand some of the ways that we really need community support when you have families with Alzheimer's and Dementia," she said.

Schafer said 76,000 Coloradans are living with Alzheimer's now, and that that number is expected to jump to 92,000 in four years.

With more baby boomers reaching age 65, more are at risk of Alzheimer's or Dementia, she said. "It's the Silver Tsunami."

Schafer told Denver7 that the Association receives about 600 calls a month on it's free 24/7 Helpline.

"Everything from, 'I think I might have Alzheimers' to 'I've been diagnosed with Alzheimers, what should I do,'" she said.

She added that one of her favorite stories was from a woman whose husband thought they had something going on in their basement. He thought it was flooding.

"His wife said, 'we don't have a basement, but it's 2:00 in the morning. I didn't know what to do, so I called the helpline.' The helpline counselor said, 'put me on the phone,' so she handed the phone to her husband and the husband said, 'Okay, sounds good.' The husband said, 'we can go back to bed. They said they'd take care of it in the morning.'"

The Alzheimer's Association's Helpline number is: 1-800-272-3900.

"We have master's level trained counselors available 24/7 free of charge," Schafer said. "Our mission is to raise awareness and help caregivers until we can find a cure.