The legal appearances of dementia in court rulings: Mapping the terrain

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Background: Individuals with dementia may appear before the court in different roles: as victims, as witnesses, and as those standing up for their rights. While there is growing interest in the rights of older persons with dementia, relatively little empirical data exists regarding their actual interactions in courts. Therefore, the goal of this study was to empirically map this legal terrain. Methods: This study used a descriptive quantitative method. A computerized search of a national legal database limited to the period 2004-2014 and a screening process for the results were used to establish a sample of 280 court rulings that directly addressed dementia. All cases were analyzed and categorized into the following four criteria groups: characteristics of the person with dementia; characteristics of the legal procedure; the legal substance of the case; and the legal outcome. Results: The majority of cases involved a single, very-elderly (i.e. over 80 years) woman, living in the community, with unspecified dementia. The majority of cases were heard and decided in lower level courts, addressing a broad range of primarily non-criminal legal issues. Finally, in the majority of non-criminal cases, the person with dementia was found to be legally capable, whereas in the majority of criminal cases, the person with dementia was found incapable. Conclusions: The legal needs and rights of persons with dementia are much broader than issues of legal capacity or social protection. Deeper knowledge and more research is needed in order to fully understand the contexts in which dementia is constructed under the law.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)755-763
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Psychogeriatrics
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 International Psychogeriatric Association.


  • Alzheimer's disease
  • elder law
  • human rights
  • law and aging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Gerontology


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