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How Are Purple Angels Improving Hospital Stays for Dementia?

Ann Napoletan
By Ann NapoletanAugust 22, 2019

During our Alzheimer’s disease 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 put her into a completely foreign environment full of strange people having no idea how to relate to her.

Fortunately, we never did face this issue, but I’ve heard some tales that confirm my fears were not without merit. Learn more about “Purple Angels” and how they are providing a solution to this growing issue.

Hospital Stays and Purple Angels for Dementia

Gary Joseph LeBlanc is the author of the books “Managing Alzheimer’s and Dementia Behavior,” “Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfulness,” and co-author of “While I Still Can,” as well as the founder of the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Project, which is currently being piloted at Bayfront Brooksville Hospital in Brooksville, Florida.

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Inspiration for the program came through his own experience as his father’s primary caregiver and the hospital stays that 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.

His project ensures that upon admission, patients with a prior dementia diagnosis have “Purple Angels” 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 Dementia Education and Training in Hospitals

The presumption is that by making sure healthcare and hospital staff are 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 aggression, feelings of abandonment, and sundowning.

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 first responders, hospital staff, and volunteers. Ideally, anyone who might interface with a person with dementia will be trained on how to approach and interact with them, with one end goal in mind — providing the best care possible.

The Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Project is receiving enthusiastic support from the Alzheimer’s Association, as well as many other organizations and experts in the area of dementia care. Let’s hope that one day soon, every hospital staff member across the United States will not only recognize purple angels and their significance but also have the training and tools needed to provide world-class dementia care.

Would you support the adoption of purple angels in hospitals in your area? Why or why not? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Ann Napoletan
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Ann Napoletan

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