The most expensive disease in the United States is not what you think it may be: cancer. It is Alzheimer’s Disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that tends to affect people who are older in age. Most people know someone who has had Alzheimer’s, whether it be a family member or a friend of a family member. Some people are caregivers to someone with Alzheimers, and some people with ADRD live in a nursing home. People often don’t know what resources are available to people with Alzheimers when they are having a mental health crisis. This summer, I interned for the Alzheimer’s Association of Houston and Southeast chapter to research the public policy in this area to figure out how to improve it. Public policy is a wide variety of different laws and regulations that affect society. In my work, I focused on researching the intersection of mental health and Alzheimer’s in public policy. My goal was to help the Association create a protocol for when people with Alzheimer’s are having a mental health crisis.
My boss recognized a gap in Alzheimer’s resources allocated to Alzheimers within nursing homes, assisted living places, and government policy. There were not a lot of existing resources for people with Alzheimer/Dementia Related Disorders (ADRD) who had experienced a mental health crisis. The idea that mental health professionals should have trained police (or sometimes a different unit within the police department) to receive mental health calls, is a relatively new one. Out of Texas’ major cities, the oldest police department’s crisis intervention team is only a little over two decades old.
This is a problem when loved ones of people with ADRD call the police on them for having a mental health episode, whether it be threatening violence to their caregiver, having suicidal ideation, or having symptoms after refusing their psychiatric medication. Police departments’ crisis intervention teams don’t always know what to do. These people may be threatening violence to their caregivers, experiencing suicidal ideation, or refusing to take psychiatric drugs prescribed to help them. Most of the time these people are not actively suicidal or homicidal, so sending them to a psychiatric hospital, or putting them in jail would be inappropriate. Police taking them to a psychiatric hospital would be inappropriate, as the most of the time these people with ADRD having suicidal nor homicidal ideation, but being put in jail is not an appropriate solution either. This is a problem because sending patients back to the nursing home or to their home with their caregiver often doesn’t address the issue. So what do they do? That’s what I set out to research.
Read more at Megaphone.Southwestern.edu.
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