MARIETTA — Chris Shore, a Cobb County firefighter, staggered through the dark Wednesday morning, fumbling with buttons on dress shirts and the puzzle that lay on a dimly lit table while trying to make sense of all the overlapping voices he was hearing.
“It was confusing. I couldn’t hear the instructions very clearly to begin, so I kind of just wandered around in the dark looking at what was what and trying to find out what I was supposed to do with it,” Shore said. “It was very frustrating not being able to see or hear and having diminished touch.”
Shore and a group of his fellow Cobb firefighters donned sense-restricting gloves, glasses and headphones on Wednesday and were challenged to complete tasks including folding a shirt, organizing silverware and playing Solitaire as part of the fire department’s first-ever dementia training.
The training, organized by The Arbor Company, an Atlanta-based operator of senior and assisted living facilities, puts first responders through seven minutes of symptoms associated with dementia, according to Laura Ellen Christian, senior vice president of engagement and dementia training.
The sense-restricting gear takes away peripheral vision, limits hearing with a mix of confusing sounds and voices and diminishes sensitivity to touch, making fine motor functions much more difficult, Christian said.
The seven-minute “Dementia Live” experience is followed by about 30 minutes of education and discussion.
Christian said an estimated 5.8 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, one of the more than 70 different forms of dementia, and that number is expected to increase to 14 million by 2050. That, she said, is why it’s so important for first responders to know how best to respond to calls involving a dementia patient.
Kevin Gross, Cobb’s deputy fire chief, also went through the training and said it will be invaluable in building firefighters’ understanding and patience when dealing with dementia patients. Gross said prior to the training, it was easy to get frustrated with patients who seemed uncooperative, but now he and others in the department know the cause behind the actions.
“It was very eye-opening and very frustrating to see what those dementia patients go through,” he said. “We’re making this mandatory for our whole department to go through this, so our firefighters are going to be better educated. And when we go on these calls within Cobb County, we’ll be able to better serve the patients that are suffering from dementia.”
Gross said Fire Chief Randy Crider went through the training a year ago and suggested the entire department participate.
The training began Monday, and 15 to 20 Cobb firefighters will be walking through it each hour until Friday evening, at which point all 600 Cobb firefighters will have been trained, Christian said.