By Elisabeth Monaghan
For 37 years, Police Division Chief Jim Lorentz has served and protected the Wheat Ridge community, but his role as a police officer is only one of the qualities that make him a hero. In addition to his work in law enforcement, Lorentz trains first responders around Colorado on identifying people with dementia.
It started when his wife’s mother was diagnosed with dementia at age 58. To understand the disease as she took on her new role as long-distance caregiver, Jill Lorentz sought out resources. She began working with the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association – first as a volunteer, and then as a full-time employee. From there, she went on to establish Summit Resilience Training, which provides training and valuable information for anyone dealing with or wanting to know more about Alzheimer’s and dementia. In addition to her work with Summit Resilience Training, Jill also has a weekly podcast called Dementia Resilience.
After his mother-in-law was diagnosed, Jim Lorentz made it his mission to learn as much as he could about the disease. In 2009, he took advantage of training offered by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) as part of its Alzheimer’s Initiative. Lorentz has drawn upon this “train the trainers” program, along with 10 years of volunteering for the Alzheimer’s Association, to design the training he provides first responders throughout the state of Colorado under the umbrella of Critical Intervention Training (CIT).
Why does Lorentz believe this training is crucial? According to the Alzheimer’s Association website, an estimated 5.7 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s dementia. Of these, 5.5 million are age 65 and older, and about 200,000 are under age 65 with younger-onset Alzheimer’s. Currently, one in 10 people over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s; one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. On its website, the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention estimates that one in six women and one in 10 men, who live past the age of 55, will develop dementia in their lifetime.
As the population ages, the number of people living with dementia, including Alzheimer’s, will increase. This means police officers, EMTs, firefighters, etc., are likely to encounter individuals with dementia when responding to situations like car accidents, reports of shoplifting, domestic violence or disoriented and lost individuals. Of the different types of dementia, Frontotemporal Degeneration (FTP) is a form first responders are likely to encounter. When an individual has FTP, she or he frequently demonstrates lack of judgment, inappropriate social behavior and the inability to control themselves.
“That’s what we want to talk to first responders about,” explains Lorentz. “In the training, we discuss what questions we can ask. We’re just trying to handle things in the moment, so if the individual shows symptoms that look like FTP, we want to determine the best direction for us to take under these circumstances.”
When answering a call, first responders who have participated in Lorentz’s program are prepared to de-escalate a heated situation. One technique he teaches is redirection. For example, when confronting a hostile individual who shows signs of FTP or other forms of dementia, a police officer may redirect the discussion by commenting on the person’s shoes.
“We know how frustrating it is when people don’t understand us,” says Lorentz. It can be even more difficult when the misunderstood person has dementia.
“By redirecting the conversation and getting them to calm down so we can talk a little bit, we have a better chance of figuring out what they want or are trying to accomplish. If we can figure that out and help them, we have a better chance of success.”
Lorentz also emphasizes that the best outcomes happen when first responders take their time to address the situation.
Since launching his program, Lorentz has trained about 3,500 first responders from around the state including Vail, Eagle County, Englewood, Jefferson County, Denver, Arapaho County, Adams County and Douglas County. Lorentz plans to continue training first responders, but currently has no desire to package the training or write a book about it.
“I think the stuff that I do is not particularly unique,” says Lorentz, “but I like to think I’ve made a difference in metro Denver.”
Considering that Lorentz was recognized as a hero this past May by the Colorado Alzheimer’s Association, it is evident he has indeed made a difference and by continuing to pass along his knowledge of identifying and working with dementia patients, he will continue to do so.
Although the Denver Walk to End Alzheimer’s took place on Sept. 15, there are other opportunities to donate time or money to the Colorado Chapter of the Alzheimer’s association. To learn more, visit https://www.alz.org/co
For more information about Jill Lorentz’s work with Alzheimer’s patients, their loved ones and their caregivers, visit https://summitresiliencetraining.com. To inquire about the training from Jim Lorentz, email him at email@example.com.