We were fortunate – my mom only had to visit the hospital very, very early on in her illness – but even at that, I know how difficult it was. Every day, thousands of families are faced with the challenge of ensuring proper hospital care for a loved one with dementia. And, it’s no easy task.
Recognizing a Need
The fact is the majority of hospital workers are not trained in the unique needs of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients. To further complicate matters, they are understaffed which means every moment is precious. Simply put, dementia patients often do not receive the special care they require and the results can be disastrous.
Gary LeBlanc is doing something about this. LeBlanc is founder of the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Project, currently being piloted at Brooksville Regional Hospital in Hernando County, Florida. Having had nightmarish experiences of his own as his father’s primary caregiver, he saw a need and jumped into action.
The premise is simple, but getting there is going to take a lot of hard work. The wristband project does several things:
- Upon admission, patients with a prior diagnosis have a Purple Angel affixed to their standard issue hospital wristband for identification purposes.
- A Purple Angel is placed on their door so that anyone entering knows they should approach with the patient’s special needs in mind.
- Hospital staff, volunteers, and first responders receive training developed by LeBlanc in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association-Florida Gulf Coast Chapter.
- Use of “sitters” will become standard practice, allowing families to take much needed breaks without worrying that their loved one will be left alone.
- A dementia screening will be added to the admission process in hopes of identifying cognitive impairment even if there is no prior diagnosis.
The Purple Angel logo, originally developed in the UK and inspired by Norman McNamara, is quickly becoming an internationally accepted symbol for Alzheimer’s awareness. A big key to the success of this project, LeBlanc emphasizes, is that one standard symbol is used across all healthcare systems making it instantly recognizable.
Education is the Key to Success
LeBlanc also stresses the importance of the education component, noting that knowledge, understanding, and compassion will lead to improved care. By ensuring staff members are aware of the underlying dementia diagnosis, opportunities for misunderstandings will be reduced, and special precautions can be taken to minimize falls and wandering and address signs of confusion, sundowning, and aggression before the issue escalates.
The Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Project is receiving wholehearted support from the Alzheimer’s Association, as well as many other organizations and dementia care experts. LeBlanc is liberal with his praise of Patrick Maloney, CEO, and other members of the HMA/Hernando Healthcare leadership team for their willing and enthusiastic involvement in the pilot. With 71 hospitals in 15 states, HMA, the parent of Brooksville Regional Hospital, provides a great avenue for expansion of the program.
Sky’s the Limit
So, what’s next? Well, interest is spreading quickly; LeBlanc has been contacted by the Canadian Alzheimer’s Society as well as dementia-related organizations in New Zealand, Australia and across the United States. It is our sincere hope that adoption will be swift so one day soon every hospital staff member across the U.S. (and beyond) will recognize the Purple Angel and its significance – leading to world-class dementia care!
Do you want to get involved? Let your local hospital and Alzheimer’s Association chapter know that you support adoption of Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Project.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc is a columnist and author of the books Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness and Managing Alzheimer’s & Dementia Behavior, and co-author of While I Still Can.