How Are Purple Angels Improving Hospital Stays for Dementia Patients?

Nurse with Dementia PatientDuring our Alzheimer’s journey, one of my greatest fears was that Mom might develop an issue necessitating a hospital stay. Just the thought of it made my hair stand on end. I couldn’t imagine having to remove her from familiar surroundings where she felt reasonably safe most of the time – only to plunk her into a completely foreign environment full of strange people having no idea how to relate to her.

Fortunately, we never did face this in the later stages, but I’ve heard some tales that confirm my fears were not without merit. Thanks to Gary Joseph LeBlanc, 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, there is hope for a solution to this growing problem.

An Idea Comes to Life

LeBlanc is founder of the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Project, currently being piloted at Brooksville Regional Hospital in Hernando County, Florida. Inspiration for the program came through his own experience as his father’s primary caregiver and hospital stays he characterizes as “complete nightmares.”  The fact is, patients are not always identified as memory-impaired, and even when they are, hospital staff rarely has the training required to understand their unique needs.

Purple Angel Wristband ProjectThe wristband project ensures that upon admission, patients with a prior dementia diagnosis have a Purple Angel added to their standard issue hospital wristband. A second Purple Angel is placed on their door so that anyone entering is immediately alerted to their condition and knows they should approach the patient with this in mind. The Purple Angel logo is an internationally accepted symbol for Alzheimer’s awareness, and LeBlanc emphasizes that use of one standard symbol across all healthcare systems is a key to the project’s success.

The Importance of Education

The presumption is that by making sure staff is aware of underlying dementia diagnoses, misunderstandings will be reduced and agitation and confusion can be appropriately addressed, leading to more compassionate, effective care. Being mindful of the patient’s condition also ensures that special precautions can be taken to minimize falls and wandering and address signs of sundowning, aggression, and feelings of abandonment.

Another essential piece of the equation is education, so LeBlanc is partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association-Florida Gulf Coast Chapter to develop half-day training seminars for hospital staff, volunteers, and first responders. Ideally, anyone who might interface with a dementia patient will be trained on how to approach and interact with them, with one end goal in mind – providing the best care possible.

In addition, use of “sitters” is now standard practice for dementia patients at Brooksville, allowing family members to take much-needed breaks without worrying that a loved one will be left alone. The program is also addressing patients who don’t have an official dementia diagnosis by adding a screening to the admission process in hopes of identifying cognitive difficulties leading to earlier diagnoses.

Expansion: Florida and Beyond

The Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Project is receiving enthusiastic support from Alzheimer’s Association, as well as many other organizations and experts in the area of dementia care. LeBlanc is liberal with his praise of Patrick Maloney, CEO, and other members of the HMA/Hernando Healthcare leadership team. HMA (Health Management Associates, Inc.) is the parent of Brooksville Regional Hospital and has 71 hospital locations in 15 states.

Let’s hope that one day soon every hospital staff member across the United States will not only recognize the Purple Angel and its significance, but also have the training and tools needed to provide world-class dementia care. At the end of the Brooksville pilot, LeBlanc plans to expand the program to other hospitals within Florida and beyond, and we wish him the very best in this critically important work.

Please leave us a comment sharing your thoughts on the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Project. Would you support adoption of the Purple Angel in your area?

Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • Cheryl

    As a nurse, I applaud this project. I hope this rapidly moves throughout the country. All the issues mentioned in the article are very real and the family concerns very valid.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Cheryl, thanks for adding your feedback. It’s great to hear such strong support from a member of the healthcare community. ~Ann

  • Tim Mills RN

    As a nurse that worked in a hospital this concept should become a national model.
    I now work in memory care and and have had to serve as an advocate for my clients from the other side. BRAVO!

    • Ann Napoletan

      Thanks for the feedback, Tim. Let’s hope that the Florida pilot is just the beginning of more good things to come! ~Ann

  • Tammy Lewis

    I’d love to work to have this project adopted by our hospitals here in Delaware, as I’ve experienced the same thing when my mother went into hospital for hip replacement surgery & subsequent recovery… All the focus was on orthopedics and they couldn’t understand why she was “acting out” and “disobeying the rules”. They didn’t recognize that she suffers from Parkinsonian Dementia, and wasn’t acting out on purpose. She just couldn’t remember “the rules” or even why she was in the hospital!
    So I think this project is wonderful. And is a true means for communication with healthcare providers, when the patient can’t speak up for themselves!

    • Ann Napoletan

      I agree Tammy! I pray this will be adopted nationally. It would be a huge improvement over the way we care for these patients today in traditional hospital settings! ~Ann

  • Norman Mc Namara

    As the joint Creator of the Purple Angel we wish gary and all in the USA so much good luck with the international logo and hoipe its adopted ALL over the world as it is in the USA, UK and manyb other countries, very best wishes, “Norrms” Norman Mc Namara

    • Ann Napoletan

      Thanks for all of your efforts to raise awareness, Norman. We appreciate you more than you can imagine!!! ~Ann

  • Debby Richardson

    I think that this a brilliant idea and would love to see the purple wristband adopted in the UK!

    • Ann Napoletan

      Thanks for the feedback, Debby. The purple angel logo actually originated in the UK. ~Ann

  • Bakhus Saba

    Hi Ann-So much needs to be done for Alzheimer’s/Dementia as 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 everyday in the US alone from 2011-2030. 2 to 1 ratio are women and most caregivers are women juggling careers, family and caring for a parent hope you have time to watch this video. Song is called Still a Child written after placing my mom in Long term care after taking care of her for 7yrs at home. It was written with John and Michele Law and John is singing
    This is a special video with very personal stories. Alzheimer’s/Dementia has no borders and we must always remember with every person living with dementia there is a story, there is a life full of families, friends, work, careers, activities, hobbies, social engagement, emotions and memories – an individual – a person. thank you please share on you FB site Bakhus Saba

    .Alzheimer’s / Dementia – Knows No Borders
    At some point in our lives

    • Ann Napoletan

      Bakhus, I’m speechless. What a moving video… and beautiful song. Thank you for sharing and I will definitely be sharing with others. Much love to you and all involved with your project. ~Ann

  • Sunny

    As a spouse caring for someone with sundowning from PD, I would be so thankful for a program like this. My husband is usually fine mentally during the day, but at night, not so much. If he has to be hospitalized (2 ER visits in the past month from other issues), I certainly want the nurses and other caregivers to know that he sundowns. I love the Purple Angel idea.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Thanks for your comments, Sunny…

  • Kim Pennock

    Thanks Jane for directing me to this. Through Norman and a few others via twitter I am a much better carer and have a bigger understanding of this dreadful illness…following the most harrowing hospital experience of both myself, mum and my sister when mum had to be admitted for an emergency op last year, i feel strongly that ALL hospitals worldwide need to be aware of a patients history whatever it may be but especially when dementia is involved. Better clearer and kinder nursing care would have eased an already scary and distressing time for us all. I will do all I can to help and please accept my thanks, on mums behalf, for everything you amazing folks do daily.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Kim, thanks for the feedback. I’m sorry to hear about your mum; unfortunately, it’s such a common problem. I’ll be sure that Gary sees your comments as well!

  • KT

    Let’s get this started in Texas

  • Tony Hall

    This is brilliant! I’d love to have a go at introducing this in Bristol UK.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Tony, are you familiar with all the work that Norman McNamara is doing in the UK? If not, please email me. anapoletan(at)gmail(dot)com. Thanks!

  • Shari Felker

    I would not only support adoption of the Purple Angel in my area but want to get the Wristband Project put into motion as soon as I possibly can. I just need to know how to start.

    • Ann Napoletan

      Hello Shari! If you’d like, email me at anapoletan(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll put you in touch with Gary! Thanks!!

  • Jennifer Carter

    Ann, I am the Manager of Public Policy for the Alzheimer’s Association MA/NH chapter. I filed the Acute Care Act to change the regulations for ALL acute care setting in Massachusetts to make them dementia-capable. This purple wristband project is fantastic and will definitely be part of the discussion and the changes. I just need to pass the bill!

    • Ann Napoletan

      Hi Jennifer! If you’d like, email me at anapoletan(at)gmail(dot)com and I’ll put you in touch with Gary! Sounds like you’re doing great work!

  • Daxa

    I work a lot with families who are coping with dementia related changes and behavior, as a social worker. Every situation is unique and requires a person to understand the condition and effective ways of communication / interaction. I would love to see the purple angel at every hospital, including outpatient visits, to identify the patients with cognitive challenges and to interact with them effectively.
    caregiver Specialist,
    Kenneth Young Center, Chicago

    • Ann Napoletan

      Great to hear feedback from someone who works in this setting on a regular basis! Thanks Daxa.

  • Staff

    It is a wonderful idea and I congratulate you for its development and for encouraging its use. Do you have any advice for those of us dealing with dementia/Alzheimer’s patients in the early stages who are still infuriated by labels and reject the notion that they have an issue? It is my single greatest challenge and cause of distress with my parents, one with Alzheimer;s, one with advanced dementia. They are relatively happy until they in any way become aware of an oversight or memory issue, and then a very dark, cruel, loud side of them that was never formerly seen comes out. My mom has refused to go back to a doctor who used the word “dementia,” despite her being the one with Alzheimer’s.

  • Mimi

    Where do I get a Purple Angle wristbands. I am in the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. I used to work at an Alzheimer’s facility. I am still in touch with patients and family. My best friend’s mother has Alzheimer’s and has been in hospice for the past two months. I would like to give her and a few patients wristbands. My thoughts is that only those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia related issues should wear wristbands as an Alert!!! for help of any kind.

    I like the idea of the purple wristband on a patient’s door. It gives them dignity.

    Besides, even at this early stage when I can still think clearly in some days, I get confused with how many colors a supporter wears. Some has pink and green and yellow. I appreciate their support from the bottom of my heart.

  • Mimi

    O! I would of course give a donation or pay for wrist bands. Thank you.

  • HomeSweetHome

    What an awesome and much needed program!! How can I help to expand it in the Hampton Roads, VA area?

  • Betsy Kurtz Nunn

    That’s a WONDERFUL idea! Wish we could have Johns Hopkins pilot that program here in Baltimore…..

  • Linda V.

    We ran across a great on line place for individuals to make sure their loved ones have proper Dementia safe ID even if they have an over night stay in a hospital. Some times low tech ID bracelets/wristbands are whats needed for not only hospital staff but also cop on the street and good samaritans.
    Anyway one place to check out that we liked is

  • Gisele Frigault

    I work as an RN on a Medical/Surgical Unit in New Britain CT. We deal with these issues on a daily basis. Definitely more so @ night. I love this idea of the purple bracelet and purple angel at the door. My mom has this horrific disease and thankfully at this point she no longer suffers with it. She just goes on her merry way :). The family suffers tho’. One of our greatest fears is her being hospitalized and her confusion being increased. Definitely a supporter here. Thanks for your work.

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