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By Monica E. Oss

February 29, 2012

For organizations serving consumers with mental illnesses and addictions, knowledge of how this particular population interfaces with an ever growing U.S. corrections system is a must. The estimated number of inmates with a serious mental illness is at a substantial 16% (see More Persons With Mental Illness In Jail Than in Treatment System; Most Likely To Be In Prison in Arizona & Nevada ). And, the number of inmates with addictions is even higher (see 30% of Offenders Released in Los Angeles Under California Prison Realignment Have Mental Illness; 60% Have Addiction Disorders ). But there is another group of consumers who’s regular interface with the corrections system I had not yet thought about – those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Earlier this week, the challenges of serving the growing population of prisoners with dementia was presented in Life, With Dementia by Pam Belluck in the February 25th edition of The New York Times. This made sense to me – with the U.S. population living longer and the growing number of “lifers” in the U.S. prison system, more case of dementia in prisons seems to be just a matter of math (For more on this topic, check out in our library – Florida Prisons House Five Times More Older Inmates in 2009 Than in 1994 , Proportion of Older Inmates in U.S. Prisons Grows from 3% in 1995 to 5% in 2008 , and Corrections Are a Big Policy Issue & a Big Opportunity all members).

But the issue of consumers with dementia being incarcerated because of the actions resulting from their cognitive problems had not occurred to me – and then I read Law & Order: Alzheimer’s Unit, a blog by Erica K. on The piece gave examples of previously law-abiding citizens with dementia who were arrested for assault – of family members and other caregivers. What surprised me was the references to studies showing that 18% of dementia patients will become assaultive at some point due to their disorder. With all of the recent research about the growing incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (see Prevalence of Dementia Expected to Triple in 40 Years; Cost of Care to Increase 85% by 2030 , Risk of Dementia 80% Higher for Overweight Middle-Aged Adults , and 40% of Dementia Hospitalizations for Adults Age 85 and Older ), I started thinking about that math. In particular, the lack of service systems for the growing number of Americans with dementia in general – and the fifth of them who will exhibit assaultive behavior.

This is a challenge for our social policy – and for service delivery organizations.

Monica E. Oss
Chief Executive Officer, OPEN MINDS

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