Dementia in prison populations


In Australian media we often hear about the ageing of our population, however it’s unlikely that many of us have considered what this means to our population as a whole, including people currently in prison. Identifying the signs and symptoms of dementia is a challenge new to prison administrators and health care workers and determining the most appropriate, compassionate and ethical means of responding to prisoners with dementia is a growing issue for correctional facilities.

This blog post focuses on the resources about dementia in prison populations.

(Updated May 2017)


The Prison Project: Raising awareness of dementia in prisons (2016)

prison_alzsocNatasha Sindano, Project Supporting Officer at Alzheimer’s Society UK explains some thought provoking findings from the ongoing project that was started in 2015.
“If nothing else, I’d like you to remember these three facts: Men aged 50 and over have been the fastest growing prison population for over 10 years. Prisoners’ bodies age faster than the general population…”


Old , grey and locked away: CST group work in prison. In The Journal of Dementia Care  Vol 24 No 2 Jan/Feb 2016 p12-14ajdc banner

A unique group is supporting older prisoners serving life sentences to cope with the consequences of dementia. Gemma Williams and Judith Farmer report on their programme of cognitive stimulation therapy in Norwich prison.

Note: should you be interested in this article please request it through our handy form.


Discussion Paper: Dementia in Prison, Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, March 2014

DementiaInPrisonCoverThe ageing population in Australia’s prisons has grown at a rate faster than that of the general population resulting in the potential for an increase in the number of people with dementia living in a prison setting.

This paper examines the topic, investigating the needs and risk factors for people with dementia in prison and providing a series of recommendations to enhance and optimise their care.

Video: Dementia behind bars, The New York Times

This wonderful short film, outlines the role that prisoners are playing in assisting and caring for, prisoners with dementia in their own prison communities. The person-centered care that these men provide for their fellow prisoners with dementia is touching, and in some cases, is their first actual experience in caring for the needs of someone other than themselves.  Caring for someone with dementia is always an act of bravery and dedication, yet in an environment often inclined to hostility and sudden outbursts the additional risks presented by people with dementia and those caring for them are potentially greater and the stakes, higher.

Article: Life, With Dementia, Pam Belluck, The New York Times

This article is an accompaniment and in many ways, a written description of the video. It is a great companion work and supplement to the video and again illustrates the dilemmas, human stories and impacts of dementia on an often-neglected part of our community.

Research Report: Losing track of time: Dementia and the ageing prison population: treatment challenges and examples of good practice, Adam Moll, Mental Health Foundation UK

losing_track_time_webDementia presents a looming problem for prisons responsible for a rapidly growing population of older people, yet to date it remains largely overlooked. The last decade has seen increasing academic interest in the impact of this demographic shift on a criminal justice systems designed to house younger people, however the issue of dementia has attracted little attention.

The aims of this report are to scope existing research on treating and managing male offenders with cognitive impairment to identify and share examples of good practice employed by a handful of prisons around the globe. Each establishment identified was invited to complete a comprehensive survey detailing their policies and provisions in the following areas:
• Screening, diagnosing and referral processes
• Specialist staff training
• Collaboration with specialist external agencies and voluntary sector organisations
• Prisoner carer or ‘buddy’ programmes
• Alternative activities and services for the cognitively impaired
• Older prisoner forums and centres
• Desired additional resources to better manage prisoners with dementia

Article: Behind Bars: the challenge of an ageing prison population, James Baldwin and Jasmine Leete, Australian Journal of Dementia Care, August/September 2012

AJDC_prison_articleWith the number of older people with dementia in correctional facilities surging, complex ethical, legal and medical issues have arisen. James Baldwin and Jasmine Leete discuss the challenges and solutions for people with dementia in Australian prisons.

Article: Dementia in prison: ethical and legal implications, S Fazel, J McMillan, I O’Donnell, Journal of Medical Ethics, 2001

An older article, but worthy of consideration with regard to this topic. Here’s the article abstract:

“As the number of elderly prisoners increases in the UK and other Western countries, there will be individuals who develop dementia whilst in custody. We present two case vignettes of men with dementia in English prisons, and explore some of the ethical implications that their continuing detention raises. We find little to support their detention in the various purposes of prison put forward by legal philosophers and penologists, and conclude by raising some of the possible implications of The Human Rights Act 1998.”




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