Purple ring symbol could stigmatize dementia patients: Alzheimer Society

A symbol intended to improve workplace safety in Manitoba health centres could create problems for some patients, the head of the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba says.

System to be implemented by end of year in Winnipeg, end of April in other regions

Manitoba health-care facilities are starting to use a pair of interlocking purple rings to indicate a dementia patient has been violent. (iStock)

A symbol intended to improve workplace safety in Manitoba health centres could create problems for some patients, the head of the Alzheimer Society of Manitoba says.

A pair of interlocking purple rings that would be hung in or outside the room of a patient with dementia to signal that individual has been violent in the past is being implemented as part of province's health-care violence prevention program.

Wendy Schettler of the Alzheimer Society said she wants staff at hospitals to stay safe and praised some components of the program, but a symbol singling out certain patients is unnecessary.

"I really don't believe … that the symbol adds any value to this program," she said. "It really compromises the privacy of that individual, it further stigmatizes them, and actually, in my opinion, it could lead to decreased quality of care."

Once an individual is labelled violent, staff might write the patient off as "inherently aggressive" and neglect to look further into those behaviours to learn what motivates them, Schettler said.

Universal approach

Before the program is implemented at health-care facilities, staff must complete four modules of training to learn strategies such as diffusing difficult behaviour, dealing with conflict and summoning assistance when it's needed.

Schettler said she supports the education aspect of the program, but suggested instead of the visual cue of a symbol, health-care staff working with patients they don't know should assume there's the possibility of aggression.

"What I would suggest is if you're in hospital, if you're in a personal care home, and you do not know the person you're caring for, then you should be using universal approaches that kind of assume that there might be risk for somebody to be … a little bit reactive," she said.

Earlier this month, the president of the Manitoba Nurses Union said the program is either implemented or expected to be in place by the end of April in health regions outside of Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority is set to have the program in place by the end of the year.

Schettler said families with concerns about the system should speak to the management at their health facility.

With files from CBC's Marcy Markusa, Sam Samson, Aidan Geary