People whose lives have been touched in some way by Alzheimer’s disease, or another form of dementia, understand Gary Joseph LeBlanc’s mission. They not only see their loved ones battle against the toll dementia takes as LeBlanc did when he took care of his father for a number of years, they also see a lack of general awareness when they are in a hospital environment.
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. He has been a weekly columnist for six years. His column, “Common Sense Caregiving,” is published in the Tampa Tribune and in Hernando Today and many other health publications. LeBlanc is a national speaker on dementia care. He also founded the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Project and is co-founder of Dementia Mentors, a program supporting mentoring, motivation and social engagement for those living with dementia. His writings and speaking events draw from 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.
LeBlanc is also the national dementia spokesman for HCR Manorcare.
LeBlanc’s mission has also earned the respect and support of Jerry Fisher, program director of the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. Fisher and LeBlanc have been working together to run educational seminars for medical and emergency-care personnel.
Their first seminar took place at the Bayfront Health Brooksville Hospital, which ultimately served as the pilot for the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Education Project. LeBlanc and Fisher are now considered internationally to be the “go-to” for those with dementia — in particular, Alzheimer’s disease.
“Gary LeBlanc has devoted his time and efforts to creating a difference for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias,” says Fisher. “Gary was the caregiver for his father and has firsthand knowledge of care being provided in an acute medical setting. The Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association supports Gary with his endeavor. We will continue working with him in providing training for medical personnel. We applaud Gary for his commitment to the Alzheimer’s/Dementia Wristband Education.”
And rightly so.
The mission has spread to several other hospitals now. According to Lisa Milne of Alzheimer’s Association’s Florida Gulf Coast Chapter, they are 100 percent on board to assist LeBlanc in all hospitals within their regional jurisdiction, which means they provide the education for free.
Hospitals in Knoxville, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky.; and Providence, R.I., are using the hospital wristband program. Other hospitals lined up for the educational seminar besides Sun City Center, Fla., are a Health First hospital on Florida’s east coast, Floyd Memorial Hospital in Indiana, Tennova Healthcare in Tennessee, Covenant Health in Tennessee and the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
The program also raises awareness about the caregivers themselves. LeBlanc says that a Stanford study shows that 45 percent of caregivers taking care of someone with dementia die before their patients. To provide care for dementia patients takes its toll.
If a caregiver or family member is under such stress, it is only reasonable to think that those interacting with those with dementia might not know how to handle situations they could face.
Following is an example of how a dementia patient could be misunderstood.
According to LeBlanc, a man with dementia was brought into a hospital emergency room by his wife because he sprained an ankle. He is hard to get along with and argumentative because of his condition. The doctor’s questions confuse him. The doctor does not know the man has dementia. The situation escalates when the dementia patient throws the doctor against the wall. As a result, the patient, who is misunderstood from the beginning, is hospitalized under the Baker Act against his will.
The Baker Act of 1971 allows the involuntary institutionalization and examination of an individual if they show they could have a mental illness, or they are potentially harmful to themselves or others.
“You are going to see them (dementia patients) at their worst in a hospital environment,” LeBlanc says. “[Hospital personnel’s] job is to keep the person as calm as possible.”
What LeBlanc worries about is the misdiagnoses of dementia patients.
According to LeBlanc, those with alcohol-related dementia are always diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease because they are not honest about how much they drink, or other particulars.
“Dementia is not a normal part of aging,” LeBlanc says. “Alzheimer’s disease is misdiagnosed 45 percent of the time, especially in those that are young.”
Administrators at hospitals, once they have been through the training, agree: “They say, we need this everywhere,” LeBlanc says, who adds he believes that it is not 5.5 million people diagnosed with some form of dementia — that it is more like 10 million people nationally suffering from this disease.
The law needs to change, he says. According to LeBlanc, two dementia-related courses are required by law for medical workers to work in assisted-living facilities. No dementia-related courses are required for those medical workers working in hospitals. LeBlanc is now working with the Florida Hospital Association to make changes in Tallahassee, the state capital.
“This is a life-saving project,” LeBlanc says. “Verifying their [dementia patient] medical history is the number one important thing. This [wristband] is a hospital tool.”
Medical and emergency professionals already registered for the Sun City Center Alzheimer’s/Dementia Hospital Wristband Education seminar on Oct. 28:
South Bay Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital – South, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Sun City Center Emergency Squad, Sun City Center Security Patrol and the Community Emergency Response Team. SunTowers Retirement Community, the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Sun City Center Community Association are sponsors of the event. This symposium is not open to the public, but the education participants receive will help the community at large.