Randy Yohe Published

Veteran Law Enforcement Officers Now Included In Alzheimer’s Awareness Training Bill

The Governor, with his English Bulldog Babydog at his side is in his grand reception room.
Gov. Jim Justice signing Senate Bill 570 into law last year.
Randy Yohe/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

About 40,000 West Virginians live with some degree of Alzheimer’s dementia, according to the West Virginia chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. There has been concern that recent legislation focused on law enforcement interacting with those suffering with Alzheimer’s did not go far enough. 

On Alzheimer’s Awareness Day at the West Virginia Legislature, the organization’s program director Terresa Morris said that more than half of those with the brain disorder affecting memory and behavior will – at one time or another – wander. 

Senate Bill 570 was signed into law in 2022. The measure required all new law enforcement and correction officers to undergo specialized training in how to identify and communicate with those living with dementia. Morris said that training proved as an eye opener for new recruits. 

When we talk about stories of people in the past that have had situations like this, I think it’s something that our new officers don’t always think about,” Morris said. “They just know that’s not what they’re taught, per se, so currently, we’re doing that through training at the State Academy for all the new officers.” 

That law made Alzheimer’s awareness training voluntary for law enforcement and correction officers already on the force. However, few veterans stepped up to take the training. 

Currently proposed Senate Bill 208 mandates that all law enforcement officers, new and old, take Alzheimer’s awareness training. 

Morris said with stories of first responder confusion over intoxication vs. dementia still coming to light, across the board training becomes a community help as well.

“This is something fairly new,” Morris said. “We’re just at the point where we have increased awareness of dementia and Alzheimer’s and someone that maybe has been in the force five, 10, 20 years – they need this training, they need to know what they could potentially be dealt with or what they could be working with.”

The training also includes understanding the risks associated with Alzheimer’s, including elder abuse and exploitation.

With Alzheimer’s activists in attendance, the Senate suspended rules Thursday and passed Senate Bill 526, which would incorporate early detection, diagnosis and education efforts regarding dementia on its public health platforms. That bill now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.