Gary LeBlanc knows that a hospital stay for a person living with dementia can be challenging.
LeBlanc, who cared for his father who had Alzheimer’s disease for 10 years, said hospital staff can’t look a patient in the face and realize he or she has dementia.
Placed in an unfamiliar routine and environment, patients might not be able to tell staff what medications they take, whether they’ve had surgery — even what city they were born in.
LeBlanc has heard horror stories of patients who wandered off or refused pain medication before a surgery.
Four years ago, LeBlanc had an idea to help Alzheimer’s patients, doctors and caregivers — using a universal visual symbol to identify someone with dementia.
Later this year, Brooksville Regional Hospital will roll out a pilot program of LeBlanc’s vision, putting a purple angel logo — the international symbol for dementia — on dementia patients’ admission wristbands. Hospital staff will also begin giving brief cognitive assessments for all patients admitted, and hospital sitters will be available to look after dementia patients when their family or caregiver needs a break.
“This visual alerts staff to patients with dementia,” LeBlanc said, adding the cue will be helpful not only to doctors and nurses, but hospital staff on the grounds, who will be able to notice if a dementia patient wanders off.
LeBlanc said Brooksville Regional will be the first hospital in the country with this kind of program.
“This is huge … this will probably go nationwide,” LeBlanc said.
According to LeBlanc, Brooksville Regional got involved about a year ago. LeBlanc said both Chief Executive Officer of Hernando Healthcare Patrick Maloney, and a former nursing executive had personal, family connections to the disease.
“Pat said it was the right thing to do,” LeBlanc said, adding the encouragement helped gain momentum for the program.
LeBlanc said the hospital will spend the coming weeks doing training and getting the pilot program ready. Staff will receive training from the Gulf Coast Alzheimer’s Association and plans are in the works for involving community caregivers, as well.
Right now, LeBlanc said, hospitals around the country don’t know how many patients are living with dementia. With the pilot program, Brooksville Regional will know how many patients come through their doors during the six-month period, and the brief cognitive test, which asks patients to remember three words, may be able to catch patients with the early signs of the disease.
Susan Frimmel, director of marketing for Brooksville Regional, said Chief Nursing Executive Margaret Doerr is working with LeBlanc to get the project started. Frimmel added she is working on a marketing campaign for the program. She expects the program to be up and running in about a month.