First responders receive comfort kits for people with dementia

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)--- "Across the state of Wisconsin we have close to 120,000 people living with dementia so we're definitely seeing a rise and 70 percent live in the community," Joy Schmidt, dementia specialist with the Aging & Disability Resources Center (ARDC), said.

Older adults with Alzheimer's or dementia often live with anxiety, agitation, or anger and in an emergency situation these characteristics can increase. First-responders are now being provided with sensory bags containing stuffed animals, dolls, squishy balls or other items that can help distract a person suffering from dementia during an emergency.

"Whether that be EMS, fire, come to a situation where the person with dementia is agitated upset and this is really a way to help them deescalate the situation," Schmidt said.

The bags also contain instructions that can help first-responders effectively communicate with a dementia sufferer while offering aid or transportation.

"Any emergency situation is troubling enough, but it can be especially traumatic for someone suffering from dementia," said Supervisor Tanya Buckingham (District 24, Monona), who spearheaded the effort to have the County pilot the use of dementia sensory bags by first responders in interested municipalities. "These sensory bags have a proven record of bringing some relief, which in turn makes things easier for those attempting to render aid."

Through the efforts of the county's Department of Human Services Aging & Disability Resources Center (ARDC), 60 bags will be distributed to local municipalities including Monona and Sun Prairie. The ARDC was able to use a portion of a Dementia Care Specialist Grant to cover some of the costs.

"All across Dane County we are seeing more communities work to become dementia-friendly," said Supervisor Jamie Kuhn (District 16, Madison), who serves as chair of the county's Health and Human Needs Committee. "These bags are a small but important part of that effort."

In addition to assembling and distributing the bags, the ARDC has been offering training to first-responders on assisting people with dementia. They are also distributing information cards that can be shared throughout the community.