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Are people with dementia a threat to public safety?

A 74-year-old who was neurologically impaired enough to shoot and kill a man was driving and carrying a weapon -- someone didn’t do his or her job
The scene of a shooting at a Ramle shopping mall, allegedly in a dispute over a parking spot. (Screen capture, Channel 12)
The scene of a shooting at a Ramle shopping mall, allegedly in a dispute over a parking spot. (Screen capture, Channel 12)

Last week came the horrific news that a man had been shot and killed during an argument over a parking space. The victim left behind a widow and three young children, a household of loved ones with significant special needs. I didn’t think anything could make this story worse.

But then came the news that the next day, the 74-year-old killer was in court with his lawyer pleading some form of incompetence based on being “very sick with dementia.”

If the shooter is indeed, one of the thousands upon thousands of Israelis living with dementia today, there are obvious questions that MUST be addressed and addressed now. Let’s start with:

  • Why does a person “very sick with dementia” have a valid gun license and access to a gun?
  • Why does a person “very sick with dementia” have a valid driver’s license and access to a car?

We have laws to govern these matters. So what happened or did not happen that leaves us with a 74 year old (and he could have been 35 or 45 or 55, as we are becoming more and more aware of Young Onset Dementia affecting people in Israel as young as 30) driving, carrying a weapon, and neurologically impaired enough to shoot and kill a man over a parking spot.

Where were the professionals, the doctors, the social workers, etc., who had contact with this man over the period of time since his incompetence became obvious?! — with dementia there are noticeable changes in behavior, language, and cognitive abilities that develop over time. Where were those professionals when it was time to help this man, and his family, face the harsh reality that his medical situation required significant changes to his lifestyle and if he was unable or unwilling to relinquish the tools he would later use to kill, why didn’t one or more of these professionals step in? It is rare that someone suffering from dementia willingly gives up the tools, especially the driver’s license, that signify independence, health, and wholeness in our society.

If the lawyer has documents to prove his client’s incompetence due to dementia, it is critical for the sake of public safety that the signatories to those documents be brought forward and questioned in court about what steps they took that would have mitigated this horror.

Moreover, if they did not advise the relevant authorities (Misrad Bitahon and Misrad Rishui — the ministries of defense and transporation, or the Israeli DMV) about their patient’s condition, we need to know why not….. and when the penalties for putting the public at risk will be enforced.

To family members dealing with dementia, I ask, as one of you, please get the help you need to keep your loved one, yourselves, and the rest of the community safe.

Taking away a person’s freedom, by forcing him or her to relinquish a driver’s license (or gun license), is incredibly difficult and painful. I know. I chose to take my husband’s license and car keys from him, at age 52, when his cognitive decline made me question his competence behind the wheel, even though his doctor at the time preferred not to confront him.

I knew that I was causing my husband unbearable pain. The hurt and anger that ensued, the rage directed at me day and night, lasted for months. That is why this step SHOULD be in the hands of doctors — who can be the “bad guys” and leave family members to the other challenges of daily care. Much as the professionals SHOULD do what is right, ethically and legally, if they do not take responsibility, then please do what has to be done. Taking away your parent’s or spouse’s freedom and independence is a terrible burden, but it cannot compare to the pain of facing a bereaved family that should be enjoying an everyday activity, like a trip to the local mall.

Are people with dementia a threat to public safety? Absolutely, when those involved in their care shirk important responsibilities.

About the Author
Susan Levin works part-time at The Maaleh Film School and full-time as her husband's caregiver.
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