Hospital Wristbands for Dementia Care

According to Gary LeBlanc, the health care system in the United States lacks in the field of training for dementia care. “Just bringing a loved one to a simple doctor’s appointment can be difficult enough,” he says.

Hospital Wristbands for Dementia Care

“Maintaining a simple daily routine is the best thing you can do for those living with dementia,” LeBlanc continues. Learn more about his suggestions for using wristbands to assist those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in a hospital setting.

In a hospital, there are beeping medical equipment, strange faces and bewildering questions being thrown around like hand grenades. To someone with dementia, whose crucial routine is disturbed in this setting, their anxiety and confusion shoots through the roof. I’ve been parading an idea for the past five years, which I passionately believe in to assist both those with dementia and hospital administrators.

It’s the idea of all hospitals using a specially designed wristband or marker to identify patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s or any other type of cognitive disability. Through personal experience, I encountered three hospital stays right alongside of my father, who had Alzheimer’s. Just the admission process turned into a complete nightmare. My eyes were truly opened to the severity of the problem. I was in absolute shock at how few staff members, if any, knew anything about dementia care. They literally had no clue how to handle someone who was suffering from dementia.

Soon after, I began writing about this in my weekly column “Common Sense Caregiving” and immediately, one horror story after another started pouring in from caregivers all over the world. These stories left my skin crawling.

Implementing Dementia Care Wristbands

Fortunately, after a lot of time and effort, Bayfront Brooksville Hospital (formerly Brooksville Regional) in Hernando County, Florida has become the first hospital in the U.S. to implement the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Hospital Wristband Program.

The program components are as follows:

  1. Upon admission and with a prior diagnosis of a dementia related disease, a Purple Angel logo is attached to the patient’s wristband, which is the international symbol for all types of dementia.
  2. In addition, a magnetized Purple Angel is also placed on the door frame and/or above the room’s number plaque.
  3. The hospital staff and most “Community First Responders” will also have received dementia care training. At the Brooksville Hospital, the Alzheimer’s Association — Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, partnered in and offered all the RN’s and CNA’s a 2.0 ECU for the class.
  4. A sitter may also be utilized to give the families a much-needed break from worrying about their loved one.
  5. Finally, a dementia screening can be added by administering a miniature cognitive test to the admission process for all patients, within reason.

Understanding Dementia

I’m proud to say that this has put many people on the right track to being properly diagnosed. Education is, without a doubt, the most important facet of this program. Being welcomed into a hospital to instruct the staff on the proper ways of caring for a dementia patient, was a huge step in the right direction.

During training seminars, one of the first things I preached was the importance of verifying the medical history of any patient with dementia. Any and all medical questions answered by the patient at risk for cognitive disabilities must be verified with this patient’s family or advocate. Without this being incorporated, the risk of drastic medical mistakes could be made, some possibly resulting in death. It is crucial to realize that one of the symptoms surrounding dementia is poor decision making, especially in an environment that has enhanced their confusion. It is also important to understand that these wristbands only stand for the patient being at risk of cognitive impairment. They do not stand for a diagnosis, which is important to state when it comes to our HIPAA laws. They are similar to the yellow wristbands placed on patients that are at risk for falling. They are meant to alert the staff to take precautionary measures.

Our main goal is to assure that all patients with dementia related diseases, will experience a calm and safe stay (as is possible) during any time spent in a hospital. We have recently put a team of powerful advocates in place here in the Tampa Bay area, which consists of members from the Florida Gulf Coast Alzheimer’s Association, Arden Courts, Bayshore Home Care, Sun Towers and myself. We now have teams being built in the states of Indiana, New York, Rhode Island and Tennessee. Our goal here is to have Tampa Bay become the first “hospital dementia-friendly community” in the country!

About the Author

Gary Joseph LeBlanc, is the author of “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness,” “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behaviors” and co-author of “While I Still Can.” Also, a weekly columnist of “Common Sense Caregiving” which is published in the Tampa Tribune and Hernando Today and many other health publications. He is also a national speaker on dementia care. He founded the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Hospital Wristband Project and is a co-founder of Dementia Mentors. His writings and speaking events utilize his 3,000 plus days and nights of personal caregiving experience to help other Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers cope with the everyday challenges and emotional struggles of caring for the memory-impaired.

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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • Gail

    We are trying to improve care at our local hospital as I as a professional caregiver also have incidents that could have been avoided if staff are training in dementia. Right now we have a task force addressing this issue -BUT the hospitals nurse educator wants to train the staff. We feel that a more experienced dementia educator should provide this training. We are meeting with resistance… HIPPA also impacted our hopes to identify patients w/ dementia to avoid potential harm.

  • SharronWilliam2

    Gary, great idea, but I have to agree with Gail. Unless you work in the healthcare industry you may not know about all the HIPPA rules that prevent hospitals from doing certain simple things.
    I am a Dementia Care Trainer. I created a Dementia Care Advocacy Program and train hospital staff on Dementia Care as well.

  • Wendy Adams

    Gary, I think this is a great idea. Yes, I understand where Sharron and Gail are coming from because hospital staff from CNA’s to RN’s are not trained when it comes to Alzheimer’s. Christmas night 2013 is my example. My dad was complaining that he wasn’t feeling good. When I took his bp it was 60/40 and heart rate was 30 bpm. When I got him there around 10 pm cst; I made everyone aware of his Alzheimer’s (it fell on deaf ears). At 1 am he went into surgery and was out by 430 am. We stayed until 5:15 am and were assured that he would be taken care of. I live less than 5 minutes from the hospital. I took mom home, then I went home. I was in my bed by 5:45 am, only to get a call from the staff that dad was “uncontrollable”. I spoke with everyone that would listen to me about restraining him before he came to and was told that it wouldn’t be necessary. By 6 am, I was back at the hospital. He had ripped out the external pacemaker, the cath, and all ivs. I was in tears of how my “uncontrollable” dad was treated. July 2014, he was at another well known hospital; the staff again knew he had Alzheimer’s. On my way to visit him after him being there 3 days; he had an anger fit. He used his forearm to side his breakfast tray off the bedside table. They called security on him while the RN was calling me because dad was being released due to his behavior. Unless these professionals have walked in my shoes where as I’m taking care of both parents with this horrible disease. They have no idea what it’s like to see a loved one treated as a second class citizen….. Happy New Year, maybe something will change 🙂

    • Gary Joseph LeBlanc

      Wendy, your story is a familiar one that I hear from all corners of the world.
      Education is the key. We need to train the medical staffs on ways to handle dementia behavior and better ways of communication.

      We also need to train on all the different dementia related disease. Learning that different meds have different affects other types of dementia is crucial. Many time this is what’s causing the poor behavior.

      • Wendy Adams

        I agree Gary!!!! I know this sounds crazy, I strongly believe it should be taught by front line family caregivers. Yes, you can have the book knowledge however there’s nothing that can compare to being the caregiver. Each case is similar and runs parallel and so different at the same time. The person with the disease will often only communicate with the one family member who has been the caregiver prior to going into a care facility. Unfortunately you begin to hear the stories of abuse; I strongly believe that happens due to lack of training/understanding for the CNA/LVN. I’ve been somewhat fortunate with my dad. The staff knows I’m there daily at different times, because there’s always staff turnover due to lack of pay/interest in the job. Whenever dad gets a new CNA/LVN; I take the time to explain the behaviors and so on. I also explain why I’m there a lot; letting them know that it’s a “team disease”. We have to work together to make life for all just a bit easier.

        • Gary Joseph LeBlanc

          Wendy, I have over 3000 days of personal experience on caring for dementia as I was my father’s primary caregiver for over 10 years. I kept him home the entire time and saw this disease from day one until the very last day, since we also were in business together.

  • Gary Joseph LeBlanc

    Hippa Concerns:
    When we started this program at Brooksville Regional,
    which was a HMA Hospital. This was sent to their legal department and
    thoroughly gone through, specially how it would effect the Hippa laws.
    The fact the this is a logo which is only an “At Risk” symbol and has
    nothing to do with a diagnosis is how it works. The red bands used for
    allergies on state they are allergic to something, not what. We are even
    using the logo for post surgery delirium.
    The program has been up and running for over a year now and not run into any problems. In fact it’s been extremely positive.

  • Kathy Bunkofske

    the 3 times my husband has had to be admitted- i stayed with him at 24/7. #1 reason–he had an IV in and would get out of bed without realizing he had just pulled the iv out of his hand and would bleed all over the place. they set the alarm on the bed–but by the time they got there-he had made a mess with the iv:( I pray he doesn’t have to go in again–but if he does–i will be there right beside him !! the last time he went in- i thought he would be ok –so i went home (5 minutes away also) came out the next morning and every nurse i met told me he had a rough night and they almost called me several times–the last 2 that told me –i just said yes–i will be staying tonite. they were relieved -i wish they would have called me—that is why i left my phone # on the wall for them 🙁

  • NJDaughter

    I had firsthand experiences with my mother where hospital staff didn’t look at her chart to know she had Alzheimer’s and kept directly asking her questions about her medical history, current health concerns, medications etc. I had to constantly take the staff aside and tell them she had Alzheimer’s and that her information was unreliable. There is a revolving door in a hospital with staff on all levels of support and care so this was incredibly frustrating.
    I also thought why don’t they use a colored band to identify a patient with Dementia/Alz so that its quickly recognized. I didn’t know where to start with this idea so glad someone else took up the baton first.
    I’d like to get this program in the hospital my mother frequents but don’t know who to contact there yet. Any ideas where to start?
    Its amazing that this simple fix hasn’t been implemented before!

  • Karen Hall Sarraga

    My mother will be going in for surgery at one of the Banner Medical Center hospitals in AZ. I asked if they have a purple angel program and while they don’t have one I was told that they do have a program where dementia patients have a document filled out with the help of the family. It is posted above the bed so the staff sees it when they approach the patient. It’s presence alerts the staff that the patient has cognitive impairment and gives them some personal info to engage the patient without causing anxiety. The way I understand it the document has things like favorite music, pets and their names, etc. so they can converse with the patient with leading questions such as “I hear you have a cat named Molly, what color is she?” I plan to be there around the clock but liked that they have something in place to help make the staff aware too.

  • Joanne westerman

    I too would like to advocate for this program at my local hospital. Could you perhaps post suggested steps how to get started?

  • Heather Gilbert

    I am a nursing student exploring the purple angle wrist band project for my organization. I would like to connect and further discuss. What is the best way to connect? Heather Gilbert

    • caitlinburm

      Hi Heather,

      Thank you for reaching out to us. You can contact us at: [email protected].

      We look forward to connecting with you.

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