Dementia expert trains Loveland police officers after violent arrest

State

LOVELAND, Colo. (KDVR) — A registered nurse, who’s an expert in helping dementia patients and their caregivers, spent hours Wednesday night training Loveland Police officers on how to sense cognitive decline in people.

Cyndy Hunt Luzinski, the executive director of Dementia Together, went to the department shortly after it was announced that two former officers are facing criminal charges for the violent arrest of 73-year-old Karen Garner last summer.

Garner has dementia. She and her family have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Loveland Police after her shoulder was dislocated and arm broken during the arrest.

“All of us are sad it took a tragedy to make people more dementia-aware,” Luzinski said. “But if that’s what it takes right now, let’s use this awful, tragic, painful situation and redeem it for a greater good.”

Luzinski, who’s trained law enforcement officers across northern Colorado, spent about three hours with a dozen members of the Loveland Police Department’s crisis negotiators.

“They really did want to learn,” Luzinski said. “And that’s been my experience when I teach other people in law enforcement.

“We talk about how do you recognize somebody who might living with cognitive decline and knowing that dementia can be an invisible disability outwardly,” Luzinski said.

Some of the signs of dementia include forgetting recent events, not dressing appropriately for the weather, saying the same thing repeatedly and not making eye contact. In these situations, Luzinski said it’s best for people — including law enforcement officers — to talk about feelings and not facts.

“Feelings are so much more important than facts,” Luzinski said. “Feelings store. Facts don’t coherently with dementia.”

Loveland Police said they were thankful for Luzinski’s in-person training, which supplements the department’s online training.

“We’re very grateful to the Alzheimer’s Association for their initiative in contacting us, and to the Dementia Together organization for offering their help, too,” said Tom Hacker, a police spokesman. “We’re believers in these training programs — so much so that the Alzheimer’s course is required of all our officers. We hope that the Association and Dementia Together can continue to raise awareness among first responders everywhere, as they have for us.”

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