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Tempe Fire Department undergoes dementia awareness training

(Facebook/Tempe Fire Medical Rescue Department)

PHOENIX — Rather than the usual heavy gear they wear to combat fires, first responders with the Tempe Fire Department put on a different type of gear on Thursday — which proved to be a challenge.

They wore headgear to muffle their hearing, heavy gloves to limit their motion and glasses to obstruct their vision. After that, they went through a simulation exercise where they were given five tasks to complete.

It was all part of a training to raise awareness about dementia.

“We’re trying to help firefighters and paramedics understand what it feels like to be living with dementia – to experience the confusion and frustration of everyday life,” said Jan Dougherty, special projects consultant with Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.

Dougherty said firefighters are used to working at a very fast pace. She said a different approach is needed when encountering a person with dementia.

“If you work too fast, it’s going to add to greater confusion, anxiety, frustration and agitation,” she said.

“So one of the things we’re saying is you have to slow down. You have to establish a rapport with this patient. We want for that person to feel safe with you.”

The Tempe Fire Medical Rescue Department’s 192 personnel attended a two-part session that included the simulation, led by the Home Watch Caregivers, and lessons on how to recognize and respond to signs of dementia.

The training was organized by Banner Alzheimer’s Institute. The Human Services Department’s trauma response team CARE 7 also helped.

Greg Ruiz, chief of the Tempe Fire Medical Rescue, said in a statement the training was meant to help first responders “gain a deeper understanding of how a person experiences this disease.

“During emergency medical calls, it will make us more effective when attending to a patient living with memory loss,” he said.

The Tempe Fire Department is the first to train all of its first responders in dementia awareness. Other fire departments in Arizona have trained some of their first responders as well.

More than 1,500 Tempe residents over the age of 65 are estimated to have some form of memory loss, according to the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.

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