SOPHIA, WV (WVNS) — When you are in an emergency situation or need help, many people’s first reaction is to call 911. For a caretaker of a dementia patient, co-owner of equipped, empowered, and enabled, J. T. Hunter, said that call can come with guilt or even worry that law enforcement may misunderstand or escalate the situation.
On Monday, September 13, Hunter spent his evening training first responders in Sophia on how to handle one of these calls.
“First, we identify what is that thing called dementia,” Hunter said. “For example, a lot of us don’t know it’s not actually a disease. It’s a set of symptoms caused by millions of different causes.”
Hunter told 59News more than 39,000 West Virginians suffer from dementia. That is why he wants to train law enforcement on how to communicate with these individuals and not agitate.
“To empower them with the confidence to be able to recognize and step up but also with the hands-on tools,” Hunter said. “When they’re alone and it’s going down, they have what they need to be able to maneuver through it, make a positive connection, and then get a positive result.”
He wants these officers to be able to recognize the symptoms of dementia and understand when walking into a situation, things may be different than they are used to.
“Sometimes the words are not the most important thing. It’s the feelings behind their words and how to connect with them emotionally and then be able to distract or move on throughout the task,” Hunter said. “This can empower everyone, keep our communities safer, our first responders who are there on the front lines feel more confident and prepare to take those calls.”
But this does not mean first responders will get it right on the first try, and not all dementia patients present in the same way.
“That’s not what they were taught in the academy, that sometimes go against what feels natural,” Hunter said. “There’s a process. So, we also give them the confidence to understand that they’ll say or do the wrong thing. But that’s okay, that’s part of the trying and being able to try again.”