Helping paramedics recognize dementia in patients

Innovative pilot program leaves lasting impression on first responders

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2022 • Neph Rivera : Contact

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Erin Carlson

A pilot project by The University of Texas at Arlington sought to help emergency medical service (EMS) providers better identify and treat patients who could be suffering from dementia.

Through a series of health literacy trainings conducted in Fort Worth for EMS providers, the program targeted how paramedics work with dementia patients and their caregivers. The project was in collaboration with the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Alzheimer’s Association and MedStar Mobile Healthcare.

Erin Carlson, associate clinical professor and the director of the graduate public health program in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation, assisted in creating the trainings and spearheaded efforts to evaluate them. Recently, the magazine EMS World featured the project as its cover story.

“What we learned in speaking with EMS providers is that they get these calls, but they don’t have special training on patients with dementia,” Carlson said. “Our four entities came together to see what we could do from a health literacy perspective to help providers speak to patients in a way the patient would understand.”

Carlson worked with Kayla Demiar, then an undergraduate student assistant in public health, to create a survey to assess the effectiveness of the training. The health literacy trainings were found to be highly beneficial, producing a significant increase in knowledge.

“This work was novel in that we were training emergency medical providers,” Carlson said. “Usually, health literacy concentrates on training physicians. For this group, there is very little work on health literacy to communicate with caregivers and patients with dementia.”

Kayla Demiar poses for headshot
Kayla Demiar

While the study does not have long-term data, the group did assess the effectiveness of practice changes EMS providers implemented initially following the trainings and found a 500% increase in referrals to community dementia services for caregiver support. The group also found most participants strongly agreed that it was helpful to learn the signs of dementia, as well as how and when to administer dementia screening tools. 

Carlson said she felt a personal connection to the pilot program.

“I felt compelled to be involved because my father has dementia and I know what it is like to be in that caregiving role,” Carlson said. “I have a personal passion for this; it was definitely a passion project of mine.”

This project also provided an excellent way to introduce students to research and public health in the community, said Demiar, who is now studying in UTA’s Master of Public Health (MPH) program.

“Identifying where health barriers exist and developing steps toward breaking them is exactly why I went on for an MPH degree,” Demiar said. “I wanted to develop the skills and training needed to knock down barriers that hinder optimal health outcomes.”

- Written by Sarah McBride, College of Nursing and Health Innovation