Guelph police, Alzheimer society push to keep troubled patients out of court

Guelph Police are teaming up with the Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington to help prevent people with dementia from getting caught up with the law.

Alzheimer's group launches three initiatives in partnership with Guelph Police

When people with dementia commit criminal offences, they often end up in the criminal justice system, a situation that Jennifer Gillies said can be traumatizing. (Jackie Sharkey/CBC)

Guelph Police are teaming up with the Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington in an effort to prevent people with dementia from getting caught up with the law. 

The partnership, which began more than a year ago, recently launched three initiatives to support people who, because of their dementia, are at greater risk of committing a criminal offense and being arrested. 

"The last thing we want to do is paint a picture of people with dementia being violent or aggressive," said Jennifer Gillies, executive director of the Alzheimer's society, but some forms of dementia can lead to impaired judgment and changes in personality and behaviour that may be out of character.

The last thing we want to do is paint a picture of people with dementia being violent or aggressive.- Jennifer Gillies, Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington

"All people respond to their environment," Gillies said. "People with dementia, because of their cognitive disability, may not respond in the same way or [in ways that are] deemed appropriate with societal norms and some of those responses may be criminally offensive."

Consequences are severe

When people with dementia commit criminal offences, they often end up in the criminal justice system, a situation that Gillies said can be traumatizing.

When it's happening once, twice, five times or ten times a year, it's that many times too many.- Jennifer Gillies, Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington

"Suddenly you have someone with dementia who's at the station and might not even recall what happened. They don't even know what they did," she said.

The individual may end up waiting in a police holding cell, which Gillies said is not a safe place for a person with dementia. If charged with domestic abuse, the individual could be kept away from their spouse and primary caregiver.

Partnership launches 3 initiatives

To keep individuals with dementia safe, Gillies said the Alzheimer's society will work with police to: 

  • Let families know who they should call if an individual with dementia is either at risk of committing a criminal offense or has already committed an offense.
  • Train police officers in how to de-escalate crises that involve individuals with dementia.
  • Work with other local organizations to support individuals with dementia who have been arrested and are charged with a criminal offense.

Gillies said neither the Alzheimer's society nor the police know how many people with dementia are arrested each year.

"What we know is that when it does happen, the consequences are extremely severe," she said. "When it's happening once, twice, five times or ten times a year, it's that many times too many."

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