Senior Citizens and the Mentally Ill

In the line of duty, law enforcement officers will deal with people of all ages. From the very young to senior citizens, it is important to understand different stages of life and what people are facing when you attempt to serve them out in the field. Additionally, understanding the nature and impact of mental illness at any age is a critical piece to being able to do the job effectively.

Striking a balance between empathy and law enforcement is key. While it is important to uphold the law, it is also important to recognize the signs that someone may not be in control of their choices and assist them while also protecting yourself and others.


Senior citizens are accountable for their actions just like everyone else, but age can diminish the ability to function as nimbly as others. For example, pulling over a senior for driving that may indicate intoxication may or may not mean that the person is under the influence of illicit drugs or alcohol. It may very well be the effect of prescription medications, diminished eyesight, or slowed cognitive functioning.

Similarly, when an older person experiences any interaction with the law, consider that there may be chronic physical ailments, dementia, the influence of prescription medications, and other age-related problems at issue.

Taking this into account, you can ask different questions that will help you to identify the core of the problem. If the person seems confused or is unable to answer questions, look for identification bracelets and other information that can help you to connect with someone who may have a better idea of what is going on.

Signs of Instability

No matter what the age of the individual is, there are clear signs of mental health issues that can indicate how best to respond. These include:

· Inability to answer simple questions or focus on the conversation

· Repeatedly trying to walk away

· Seeming lost, upset, or confused with no identifiable cause

· Erratic, irritable, fearful, or hostile behavior without an identifiable cause

· Speaking unintelligibly

Empathy and care should be taken to make sure that the person is not a threat to anyone, including themselves, and that they are not in medical danger. Dehydration, overheating, or unseen medical issues may pose complications and make it more difficult to assess the situation.

It is important to note that some of these signs can also indicate drug use. While this does not necessarily mean that you should handle the call any differently in terms of empathy and care, it does mean that there may be a possibility of paraphernalia and an increased chance of acute medical issues that should be dealt with first.