The New York Times recently featured a unique approach used in a California prison for dealing with America’s rapidly growing population of inmates with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
The program, known as Gold Coats, allows certain prisoners to help other prisoners deal with dementia, assisting them “with the most intimate tasks: showering, shaving, applying deodorant, even changing adult diapers.”
These individuals, many of whom are serving life sentences for particularly brutal crimes, must have had a clean behavior record for five to ten years. For many of these prisoners, the program has been rehabilitative and reflects a potentially new way of assisting a population that is particularly susceptible to dementia in their elder years.
This “less expensive but potentially riskier approach,” contrasts with the approach taken in states like New York, which has built expensive separate facilities for people with mental illnesses to interact with their caregivers. Other states have tried providing mental health workers special dementia training.
“Dementia in prison is an underreported but fast-growing phenomenon, one that many prisons are desperately unprepared to handle,” the article states. “It is an unforeseen consequence of get-tough-on-crime policies — long sentences that have created a large population of aging prisoners.”
More than 5.4 million Americans currently have Alzheimer’s, a figure that is expected to double by 2040.