With the number of elderly Americans ballooning, and with it the number of people with dementia, police officers need better training as they increasingly come in contact with people behaving in aggressive or unusual ways because of neurocognitive impairments, the Baltimore Sun reports. Arrest or jail time can be especially harmful to people with dementia, given their mental and physical vulnerability, experts say. About 1 in 9 people in the U.S. who are 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia, according to the latest figures from the Alzheimer’s Association.
Although Baltimore County Police does not have a specific policy related to dementia, spokeswoman Joy Stewart wrote in an email, new officers get training on mental illness and cognitive decline in the police academy. Groups like the Alzheimer’s Association provide additional training to officers certified in crisis intervention. The department also offers in-service training scenarios involving drivers with dementia, Stewart said. The Sun reported on the case of Henry Hart, 76, who days after he joked and danced at a family gathering emerged from the Baltimore County jail slumped over in a wheelchair, suffering weight loss and bruises. After Hart’s stint in the detention center, his family said his cognitive ability degraded sharply. There have been other tragic cases around the country. In May, a former Colorado police officer was sentenced to five years in prison after he roughly arrested a 73-year-old woman with dementia in 2020, dislocating her shoulder and fracturing her arm. The woman allegedly had walked out of Walmart without paying for about $14 in merchandise. In New Mexico last year, an officer fatally shot a 75-year-old woman who had dementia as she stood holding two large kitchen knives in the doorway of her home. In Maryland, the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Maryland Chapter has helped train first responders in the area since at least 2009, but its trainings only occur three times per year.