A while back, a Canadian suffering from Alzheimer’s disease became a cause célèbre when it was learned that he had spent 30-days in jail before a bed was found in a long-term care facility. He landed in jail when in a confused state, he pushed his wife down; she needed eight stitches to close the wound from the fall. The wife agreed reluctantly to press charges when advised that that was the only way to get her husband the help he needed. The help he got was to spend time in a medical unit of jail; fortunately, his case attracted media attention, and a bed in a proper care institution was found for him. However, he still has to return to court on November 8th to face charges of assault causing bodily harm.
In reviewing the case, André Picard of the Globe and Mail writes today:
When a sick person urinates in public, shoplifts, trashes the family home or hits someone during a psychotic outburst, the police always say the same thing: Press charges and they will get help.
But the help too rarely comes. That’s why our prisons are full of people with mental illness. (One in eight federal prisoners has a diagnosable mental illness, and the rate is significantly higher in provincial jails.)
All we need now is to start dispatching elderly Alzheimer’s patients to jail for their transgressions.
Let’s state it plainly so that politicians, judges, physicians and others in positions of responsibility understand: It is unacceptable to jail someone with Alzheimer’s. (emphasis added)
Psychosis is a common symptom of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It needs to be treated, not punished.
Jail is not – and will never be – a substitute for care, and care should never be dependent on criminal charges. Our health system and our justice system need to be more humane and rational than that.
We don’t need Grandpa Prisons. We need a dementia strategy.
Please read André Picard’s column in its entirety.