Dementia is a collection of brain disorders, including Alzheimer’s, that cause decreased cognitive functioning and memory loss. Early detection can improve treatment outcomes and give those diagnosed with dementia time to plan, but diagnosing the issue isn’t always simple; doctors often rely on symptoms and the process of elimination to diagnose the disease.
A new study published in JAMA Neurology suggests that, among seniors, the sudden commission of petty crimes such as shoplifting and trespassing could be an early warning sign of dementia.
Does Dementia Lead to Petty Crimes?
To evaluate early dementia-related behavior changes, researchers reviewed records from almost 2,400 people seeking care at the University of California San Francisco’s Memory and Aging Center. Participants experienced various types of cognitive impairments, with 545 experiencing Alzheimer’s and 171 experiencing frontotemporal dementia. The latter form of dementia commonly affects impulse control.
Among those with frontotemporal dementia, 37% had engaged in criminal behavior, with traffic violations, inappropriate sexual advances, and trespassing ranking among the most common issues. Eight percent of people with Alzheimer’s had engaged in petty criminal behavior, with 11 reported cases of more serious crimes, such as violence. For 14% of people with frontotemporal dementia, petty crimes were the first symptom of the condition.
Dementia and the Legal System
Georges Naasan, one of the study’s authors, points out that these data raise important legal issues. People experiencing the early stages of dementia, especially those experiencing frontotemporal dementia, often seem “normal,” causing bystanders to label their behavior as criminal rather than as a product of a brain disorder.
Dementia can erode impulse control while changing personality, so any sudden changes in behavior or emotion warrant a conversation with a physician. And when an older member of the family appears to be engaged in criminal behavior, the problem could actually be brain deterioration, not a newly discovered commitment to a life of crime.
Norton, A. (2015, January 8). Petty ‘crimes’ sometimes tied to dementia. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/01/08/petty-crimes-sometimes-tied-to-dementia
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