Dementia-Related Violence A Growing Concern

11 May, 2013 by

Dementia-Related Violence A Growing Concern

Dementia News: Dementia-related violence a growing concern for the aged reports Paul Bibby of the Sydney Morning Herald








Dementia-related violence a growing concern for the aged

Paul Bibby
Sydney Morning Herald

In an article on may 11th 2013, Paul Bibby reported on the growing concern over what to do with violent offenders who commit their crimes whilst suffering from Dementia…

Clara Tang sat, pale and drawn, in the forensic hospital at Long Bay jail. She had no idea where she was.

A few days before, the 90-year-old had beaten her husband, Ching Tang, 98, to death in their Surry Hills apartment with a desk lamp, flowerpot and a walking stick.

After a night in Mulawa women’s prison, Ms Tang was taken to Long Bay and examined by Justice Health’s old-age psychiatrist, Sharon Reutens. It quickly became clear that she was suffering from advanced vascular dementia.

”I asked her if she knew where she was and gave her options, like, ‘are you in a shopping centre?”’ Dr Reutens said. ”She said she didn’t know.”

Having been moved from Long Bay to the geriatric ward at St Vincent’s Hospital, Clara Tang passed away at Lulworth House at Elizabeth Bay on August 8, 2011. It was 17 months after killing her husband and one day before a court hearing to determine whether she was fit to stand trial for murder.

This week’s finding by the NSW coroner that Ms Tang killed her husband during a psychotic episode brought on by advanced vascular dementia clears her of responsibility for the crime.

But it also highlights the little-discussed, growing problem of dementia-related violence and the unpreparedness of the Australian justice system to deal with it.

While some attention has focused on the issue of violence against people with dementia, there has been less interest in violent and aggressive behaviour by sufferers themselves.

One of the few large-scale studies, conducted by researchers in northern Utah, found that, over the course of a month, 30 per cent of dementia sufferers in a sample group exhibited violent or agitated behaviour.

Another study, published in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry in 1999, found that 96 per cent of patients with dementia demonstrated aggressive behaviour at some point over the course of their illness.

”Homicides by dementia sufferers are very rare, but less serious violence such as assaults are more common,” Dr Reutens said. ”Often the victims are elderly themselves. You or I could have kicked the flowerpot out of Clara’s hands, but Mr Tang was obviously unable to do that.”

Carers of dementia sufferers are also often on the receiving end of violent action.

Like so much about dementia, the scientific cause of violent behaviour by those with the condition is not fully understood.

Research suggests the condition affects the frontal lobes of the brain, which play a central role in controlling our behaviour. When these are incapacitated a person may act on urges, violent, sexual or otherwise, without inhibition.

While Ms Tang never made it to court, her case and others reveal a number of limitations in the judicial system’s ability to deal with the growing number of offenders affected by dementia as Australia’s population ages.

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