Prisons need more support to be able to deal with the rising numbers of older inmates with dementia, a report has found.

The report, Losing Track of Time, Dementia and the Ageing Prison Population, Treatment Challenges and Examples of Good Practice, published by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), found that the number of older men in prison has risen to unprecedented levels in recent years and they are presenting healthcare needs unfamiliar to many prisons more used to managing younger people.

For instance, dementia is acknowledged as one of the most pressing problems facing health and social care systems yet little has been done to tackle the management and treatment of inmates with the condition.

Key findings in the report included:

• The older offender population presents a range of challenges to prisons in the delivery of health and social care
• Inmates with dementia bring added issues as the early symptoms are often difficult to identify
• With a few exceptions, prisons lack the resources to meet these challenges without support
• While the number of older inmates continues to rise, prisons around the globe are suffering from the impact of government cuts

The report also made a number of recommendations, including:

• Routine dementia screenings for older prisoners
• Staff training in dementia awareness
• Utilising expertise of specialist external agencies
• Promoting information sharing between security and health care staff and adopting clear procedures to refer people with suspected dementia
• Making modifications to living environment for inmates with dementia to help reduce anxiety and maintain independence.

Adam Moll, the report’s author, said: “Dementia is an issue slipping under the radar of criminal justice systems. Prisons are designed to accommodate a younger population yet, as the effects of decades of punitive sentencing policy continue to be felt officers and healthcare teams are increasingly confronted with issues associated with later life that most are ill-equipped to manage.

“Diagnosing dementia in such a regulated environment is extremely challenging, particularly as most staff lack the requisite training or experience, so it is difficult to gauge levels among the current prison population. However, it is almost inevitable that rates will rise significantly as the age demographic behind bars continues to shift, presenting a major threat to existing resources.”

Toby Williamson, head of development and later life at the MHF, added: “The ageing prison population is generating new challenges, including a rising number of male inmates with dementia. Like other medical conditions associated with later life this affects prisoners at an earlier age than the rest of the population. Not only is this potentially very distressing for prisoners with dementia but it also presents most prison regimes with difficult and unfamiliar problems to deal with.

“Being in prison and constantly confused and forgetful is undoubtedly very unsettling while on the other hand managing this behaviour as a prison officer while trying to ensure security and good behaviour among inmates must be challenging. This ground-breaking report not only identifies some of these challenges but provides examples of good practice and makes recommendations to address these issues.”