Jeremy Towler (far left) with Senior Helpers has provided dementia training to personnel at the Keizer Fire District, including Brian Appel (center) and Jim Simpson (far right). (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Of the Keizertimes

Jim Simpson, a volunteer firefighter with the Keizer Fire District the past eight years, found recent training helpful for his professional and personal life alike.

Jeremy Towler from Senior Helpers in Salem has recently given training to emergency responders from several fire agencies – including KFD and Marion County Fire District – on Alzheimer’s and dementia care. The two-hour session was done multiple times so everyone at the KFD could get the training.

“I’m not a medic, but I do go on medical calls,” Simpson said. “It was education on what causes Alzheimer’s and the effects. We see the effects, but we didn’t understand. This taught us why patients behave the way they do. It helps us know how to react so our patients don’t freak out.”

For example, Towler taught emergency personnel the condition affects the rear of the brain, impacting eyesight.

“They taught us to raise our hands near the eye so it doesn’t frighten them,” Simpson said.

It was a breakthrough in understanding for Simpson.

“It applies to my personal life,” he said. “My wife’s aunt has dementia. Now it explains why she behaves that way. They can remember things from 20 years ago, but she doesn’t remember things from last week.”

Brian Appel, a firefighter/paramedic and shift captain with the KFD, also found the training useful for dealing with patients.

“It helped us out as medics, knowing how to deal with them, how to keep them in a calm manner,” Appel said. “You want to be in front of them and you don’t want to spook them. It will help us treat them better in the future.”

Among other things, Appel said the training helped KFD personnel realize even the best of intentions could be misunderstood by patients suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s, which is the most common form of dementia.

“You do have patients that are surprised when you’re trying to help them,” Appel said. “It didn’t come across that way to the patient. Going through this class, you see how they are feeling and how they believe they are being treated. We would love to have (Senior Helpers) back in the future. We want new recruits to have this training as well.”

Simpson noted the training ended with a simulation of what it feels like to have dementia, with personnel putting on headphones for white noise and goggles to create tunnel vision.

“It gives you extra appreciation,” he said. “This was one of the better trainings I’ve had.”

Towler noted the training is free for emergency responders from Senior Helpers, which provides in-home personal care for elderly.

“I’m really excited when I hear seasoned professionals say this makes a difference,” Towler said. “We’ve got a lot of baby boomers out there. There are between 80 and 90 types of dementia, but 60 to 80 percent of the time people with dementia have Alzheimer’s.”

Towler said Senior Helpers has been providing care nationally since 2002 and uses a Senior Gems classification system developed by dementia expert Teepa Snow. The system assigns a gem to each level, focusing on what people are capable of doing at each of those levels.

“We’re willing to do this training with any business,” Towler said. “We’re about informing, educating and advocating for older people.”

Towler said one common mistake people make when treating a dementia patient is bringing them into the present.

“Say they think they are back in the 1950s,” Towler said, giving an example. “That’s where they believe they are. The common mistake is to reality orient them. It doesn’t work. They are doing no harm, so leave them where they are.”