Police are arresting more elderly Americans, including many with dementia, the Marshall Project reports.
The numbers of arrests for Americans over the age of 65 increased by nearly 30% from 2000 to 2020, while all other arrests were declining, the Nov. 22, 2022 report stated.
Elderly arrestees comprise less than 2% of all arrests, but the number of elder arrests is rising at a faster pace than the population is aging, according to the report.
The Marshall Project reports that encounters with law enforcement can have violent consequences. From 2010 to 2020, more than 12,000 seniors were treated in emergency rooms for injuries caused by police or private security responses, the story said. It attributed that data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many police officers lack adequate training in how to effectively interact with elderly people suffering from dementia and other cognitive disorders, the story reported. They may interpret an individual’s confusion and fear for aggression or a refusal to comply with orders and the situation may escalate.
“We know what works best is to talk slowly and calmly, ask simple questions, don’t argue with the person,” says Monica Moreno, a senior director at the Alzheimer’s Association. The group, in association with the U.S. Justice Department, has provided online training to more than 31,000 emergency responders on methods to deal with those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. “The techniques are drastically different from what [officers] may be learning in their everyday training,” Moreno said.
The problem also affects nursing homes, according to the American Health Care Association. It said 98% of nursing home providers reported being understaffed and having nurses that may not be sufficiently trained to appropriately address the needs of those in their care. The association reports that this can lead to frequent requests for police intervention that often escalate.
“Even handcuffing a person with dementia could be extremely traumatic,” said Eilon Caspi, a gerontologist and dementia behavior specialist at the University of Connecticut.
More communities are implementing crisis response programs including paramedics and counselors specifically trained to respond to 911 calls regarding those with cognitive impairments or mental illnesses, the Marshall Project reports.
Police are called to nursing homes “more often than we think,” said Caspi. The first responder needs “to be the one who creates calm, and reassures the person. Can we create a model where there is a designated social worker each time an officer goes to a nursing home, who can create the conditions for this to go well?”