Medical Learning Library

First Aid for People Living with Alzheimer’s

A first responder and a woman with dementia

First Responder. (User: geralt / Creative Commons / CC0 1.0)

More than 5 million Americans and 47 million people worldwide live with dementia. This number is expected to skyrocket along with the increase in the elderly population. Despite what many people believe, the majority of individuals with dementia live at home, not in assisted living or nursing homes.

Family, friends, and professional caregivers provide the needed care in the communities where you live, protect and serve. If you encounter an individual with dementia in your community, would you know how to modify your actions appropriately?

Here are tips to prepare you to recognize dementia and respond to situations efficiently.

Learn About Alzheimer’s Disease

PET scan

PET scans showing the differences between a normal older adult’s brain and the brain of an older adult who has Alzheimer’s disease. (User:7mike5000 / Creative Commons / CC0 1.0)

Learning about Alzheimer’s disease is the first step to ensure you know how to determine the best response to situations involving a person with dementia.

The term “dementia” comprises a group of conditions that cause a progressive deterioration in mental function, such as memory, behavior, logic, language, and movement. Dementia can make it difficult to manage day-to-day life, and as the disease progresses, a person will require more assistance from others.

Researchers are on the edge of understanding many aspects of these neurological conditions. No cure exists, but therapies are available that may help with symptoms and slow the rate of decline.

Recognize Alzheimer’s Disease

Clock Drawing Test

Clock-Drawing Test. (User: geralt / Creative Commons / CC0 1.0)

Providing first aid for people with Alzheimer’s can be a challenge, and it’s crucial to remember that no two people are the same. The following tips will help you identify someone with dementia. The person may:

Common Situations

As a first responder or healthcare provider, you may encounter an individual with Alzheimer’s in various situations and conditions.

Here are some typical circumstances adapted from the Alzheimer’s Association’s first responder training program:

False Accusations

An individual with Alzheimer’s may call the police station or emergency services to report a burglary, when in fact, the person has lost or misplaced the item.

Inappropriate Behavior

Confusion, memory loss, and emotional reactions may produce improper actions, such as taking off their clothes in public. The person with dementia does not understand this is inappropriate behavior.

Shoplifting

Confusion and memory loss may cause a person to forget to pay for items in a store or even fail to recognize that it is required to pay for things before leaving the store.

Wandering or Getting Lost

People with Alzheimer’s can get lost easily at any time of the day. Assess for signs of dementia when encountering anyone that you suspect is wandering or lost.

After you recognize that someone may have dementia:

Look for a body-worn MedicAlert ID. If in the US, connect with MedicAlert + Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return, a 24-hour nationwide emergency response service that provides access to:

If the person is not enrolled, share this resource with the family or caregiver to encourage enrollment.

Fires

A person with dementia may leave the oven on or forget to turn off a burner. Also, it is not uncommon for the individual to mix up the seconds and minutes when using the microwave, thus burning the food in the microwave.

Hoarding

Poor judgment can cause a person to neglect themselves and their home, which can lead to safety risks and violation of fire codes. Hoarding may lead to fires, spoiled food, pests, and fall hazards.

Abuse and Neglect

Situations of abuse and neglect can be stressful and require a thoughtful response.

Firearms

When responding to a domestic call involving a person with dementia, ask the family or caregiver if there are weapons in the home. Firearms are in 60% of households where a person with dementia lives.

Judgment and personality changes can make having a weapon very dangerous for a person with dementia and others living in the home.

Leaving a firearm unloaded may not be enough. The person can still brandish a gun and cause an unsafe situation. Because of dementia, a person:

If a family wishes to keep weapons in the home, they should:

Medical and Disaster Emergencies

During an evacuation, it is essential to keep the person with dementia calm. To do so:

Communication Strategies

The further the disease progresses, the less a person will be able to express or understand what is said.

Remember that communication can be both verbal and nonverbal. Your body language, tone, and volume of your voice can be just as important as your words.

The following communication strategies, which are adapted from Alzheimer’s Society of Canada’s First Responder Handbook and A Handbook for Care, may be helpful when approaching a person with dementia.

Additional Resources

Do you have a first aid tip? Let us know! You can contact us at support@pacificmedicaltraining.com to reach the author.

Written by and last updated Oct 21, 2017

Last reviewed by on Mar 14, 2018