A man had been sentenced to a minimum of sixteen months in prison and the remainder of his thirty two month sentence on licence. The crime was terrible, there was no doubt about that and had resulted in the death of a motorcyclist aged sixty, who had a wife, children and grandchildren. The victim had served as an advanced motorcycle and car instructor in the Metropolitan police force for thirty two years.
The first question that came to my mind – Why was the sentence so short? The reason given by the judge was the advanced age of the perpetrator of this crime – he was eighty six years old.
To me, it was the details of this incident that rang alarm bells.
This elderly man had been at the hospital visiting his wife and hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink for over eight hours. A man with sight problems, he made the decision not to wear his glasses as he started his drive home in the darkness of a late November night.
As the newspaper reported:
‘This elderly man (the newspaper gave his name) had made a U-turn after entering the wrong slip road of the M20 and continued for 2.7 miles travelling London bound on the coast bound carriageway from Junction 10 at Ashford.
Despite drivers continually flashing him to drive onto the hard shoulder, the man carried on driving the wrong way up the fast lane – with no attempt to exit at the next junction.
In his first interview, the man said he was “low on petrol” so decided to carry on the wrong way up the motorway to get back to Ashford.
In another interview, the man said he did not understand the “implications” of turning around on the motorway and admitted he hadn’t driven on one for two or three years.’
The newspaper went on to say that the man, who was killed, died at the scene. His motorcycle was seen somersaulting through the air above the carriageway.
There is no doubt that this incident was horrendous. But could there be the possibility that, given his age and the sequence of terrible decisions made by the car driver, this man was in the early stages of dementia or had Mild Cognitive Impairment? I’m not presenting a defence here, rather highlighting the need for a routine test for these conditions when people reach a certain age. Dementia, with its various causes, can be detected at an early stage through a series of tests. I know this because I’ve been through it and came out the other side with a diagnosis of MCI with an Alzheimer’s pattern. The problem here is that you’re pretty much left to get on with it, without backup or advice. With a diagnosis you’re obliged, by law, to inform the DVLA. I found this out through curiosity – nobody told me. In fact there is a lengthy inventory of illnesses that require those that are afflicted with any of the many on the list to inform the DVLA. The DVLA will make the decision based on a doctor’s assessment or even insist on their own driving test and the conditions of your licence (if it’s renewed) will depend on the outcome.
Going back to this accident. This elderly man, on the face of it, was displaying many of the traits of somebody with dementia.
My condition is always made worse and my anxiety heightened considerably when events are not pre-planned or are out of my control. Bearing in mind that this scenario I’m painting is speculative and not an argument for the defence but the sequence of events that happened to this man could easily have unfolded as it did, for anyone with the early stages of dementia.
His wife, possibly and even unwittingly, picked up the slack where her husband was failing. She’s admitted into hospital, he’s left to fend for himself, which alone will induce anxiety and low level panic, enough that he needs to be where she is, he needs that security. Food and drink don’t even register on his list of requirements. He’s at the hospital now, has been for the best part of the day but still doesn’t feel thirsty or hungry, not good if you have cognitive impairment – especially the lack of fluids.
A common trait of dementia is that you no longer register thirst or hunger. Eating and drinking at regular intervals are things that have to be put in place as a routine part of your day and now that he’s on his own, it wouldn’t be – all routine has broken down.
It’s extremely late at night before he leaves the hospital, probably at the insistence of the hospital staff. He’s by now tired and disorientated, he wants to stay with his wife but he can’t and in the dark he isn’t sure anymore where exactly he is, in relation to leaving the hospital, or how to get home. He doesn’t see well in the dark. He only drives, these days, on routes he knows well and rarely drives at all at night.
His petrol gauge is registering low and he has no idea where the petrol station is, it’s been a long time since he’s been here and everything looks different in the dark and he can’t find his glasses – he thinks he left them at home, maybe. He can’t recall if he had them earlier or not. His wife would know.
He heads for home with an uneasy sense of not being in control, heightened by the oncoming car lights and his desire to sleep. All made so much worse by dehydration.
He doesn’t know how he got onto the motorway. He certainly didn’t come this way. Maybe if he turns around now he can get back to the road he knows but the lights are confusing him and panic has overcome him. He doesn’t know what he needs to do to get out of this situation – his wife would know.
Now, the argument to all this would be that surely the police would have picked up on there being something mentally deficient with this man?
The possible answer is that although the brain is failing, the ability to articulate false reasoning to cover up brain fade is often still present, even if it’s to your detriment. I’m at the stage where I’m happy to admit that I’m losing the plot and get quite disgruntled when others insist that I’m fine, because I fear that they’ve been fooled by my ability to talk the talk.
But men are a different species that I’ve never understood and as I’ve already said this is all pure speculation.