How Are Purple Angels Improving Hospital Stays for Dementia?

During 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.How Are Purple Angels Improving Hospital Stays for Dementia Patients?

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.

The 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?

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