How Does Dementia Impact Criminal Behaviour? A Forensic Psychology Podcast Episode.


how does dementia impact criminal behaviour, forensic psychology, criminal psychology

Continuing with our fascinating look at dementia, we’re going to move away from clinical psychology and into forensic psychology to see how dementia can impact criminal behaviour. This will be a perfect episode for anyone who loves forensic and criminal psychology!


This episode has been sponsored by Forensic Psychology Collection. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.


How Can Dementia Impact Criminal Behaviour?

As a society as a whole, we are never too surprised when a criminal that has committed crimes before gets in trouble. But when a 60 year old model citizen commits a crime even if it is only vaguely illegal, we become a lot more shocked and we really want to know what happened.


And it turns out dementia can be one such explanation.


Since Liljegren et al. (2015) conducted a study that suggests that new late-onset criminal behaviour could reflect an underlying dementia. And as we’ve mentioned before, dementia is an umbrella term for a wide range of conditions.


Also, rather interestingly, the different crimes committed actually differ with each type of dementia.


This particular study involved a retrospective record review of patients that were seen at the University of California between 1999 and 2013. That revealed that out of the 545 people with Alzheimer’s Disease examined only 8% of them got into any legal trouble, and they only tended to get into legal trouble when the dementia symptoms were well established.


For example, people with dementia could drive the wrong way on a motorway or they could wander onto private property, also known as trespassing. Due to they’re confused. As well as dementia sufferers could walk out of a store without realising they hadn’t paid for such an item.


Therefore, these “crimes” are very understandable when we find out the person has dementia.

On the other hand, there are other criminal behaviours that don’t occur in Alzheimer’s patients.

For example, socially inappropriate actions (like sexual harassment), fighting and public urination. These types of behaviours are common in another type of dementia we haven’t looked at yet, called behavioural variant Frontotemporal Dementia (bvFTD).


Furthermore, Liljegren et al. (2015) reported that out of the 171 with bvFTD they examined 37% of them got into legal trouble with these socially inappropriate behaviours.


What is behavioural variant Frontotemporal Dementia?

This type of dementia tends to occur in people when they’re in their 50s and it is characterised as a gradual onset of personality changes including inappropriate and impulsive behaviours.


In addition, over time these behaviours become more and more pronounced and clear to see.

Then the cognitive changes with this type of dementia include memory, organisational skills and language do actually develop and start to return. Yet this is only after the behavioural changes.


However, the early brain damage in behavioural variant Frontotemporal Dementia occurs in the brain regions that are a part of the brain’s “emotional salience network”. And this is a critical network because involves regions such as the amygdala and the insular cortex. Both of these areas have known for their importance in emotional regulation.


An Important Wider Forensic Psychology Point:

Nonetheless, there is a critical point to all of this criminal behaviour and mental health condition talk. There are other conditions like bipolar disorder, sociopathy and alcohol abuse that can also lead to criminal behaviour.


Therefore, when people are arrested and it is believed they might have a mental health condition that impacted their criminality. It is important for them to get assessed by a health care professional so we can fully understand what happened.


As well as this is why different disciplines working together is so important. The law and psychology and general medicine have to work together if we are going to create a fairer, safer and better society for everyone. Whether they have a condition or not.


Forensic Psychology and Dementia Conclusion:

Truth be told, I’ve been putting off doing this episode for a while because I wasn’t sure if I could create a long enough episode from it. But now I have I’m extremely glad because it was great to see how dementia can interact with our behaviour to cause criminality.


And this is what I love about focusing on a topic because you get to see all the little nuances, and how it impacts from different fields of psychology!


I really hope you enjoyed today’s episode.


If you want to learn more, please check out:

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Forensic Psychology Collection. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.


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Forensic Psychology and Dementia Science Reference

Liljegren, M., Naasan, G., Temlett, J., Perry, D. C., Rankin, K. P., Merrilees, J., Grinberg, L. T., Seeley, W. W., Englund, E., & Miller, B. L. (2015). Criminal behavior in frontotemporal dementia and Alzheimer's disease. JAMA neurology, 72(3), 295–300. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamaneurol.2014.3781


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