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Alzheimer's and Shoplifting

By an anonymous Alzheimer's caregiver.
This article appeared in the T.I.E.S. (To Inform, Educate and Support) Newsletters published by the Midlands Area Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. It was also produced by the Alzheimer's Association of the Texas Panhandle. Reprinted with permission.

Not much has been published on the subject - when it happens it can be quite upsetting. Listed below is a synopsis of my experiences relative to my husband's shoplifting tendencies with the hope it may help others deal with a similar problem.

The Alzheimer's individual may be shoplifting years before being detected - cough drops and laxatives were stashed away in a storage area of our house. After detection, promises never to do it again cannot be given much credence.

After a store has filed a charge and had the individual arrested, they usually will not withdraw the charge, even after being advised of the Alzheimer's factor. They will let it go to court.

Contacting the District Attorney of the particular court jurisdiction for a meeting with the judge prior to the hearing is a less complicated way to go. This is the procedure in less serious cases and saves everyone's time. The District Attorney (DA) reviews the facts and makes a recommendation to the judge.

Provide a letter from your physician regarding the nature of the disease. Our physician's letter stated in his opinion the petty shoplifting was due to the Alzheimer's disease.

On the date of the hearing, store representatives were shown the letter and agreed to withdraw the charges but asked that I provide them with a release stating action would not be brought against the store for false arrest. The release is a standard legal form - attorneys have it on hand. The judge dismissed the charges on the basis of the doctor's statement. The court papers in this event are sealed and destroyed in six months.

A second arrest resulted in Adjournment-Contemplating Dismissal, which means if a similar incident happens within six months further action may be taken. What action I am not certain, as I asked the District Attorney to fine him in the hope it might make an impression. He refused saying he could not fine an incompetent man.

At this point, I contacted the two local police department captains, provided a photo, Alzheimer's literature, some information on my husband's personal attributes (one, he doesn't understand what is being said to him), and my phone number. They were cooperative, said they could have their officers advise the store manager of the situation, but could not refuse to arrest him if the store owner wished to file charges.

I also visited stores I knew my husband frequented, provided them with the same information, the request that they call me if an incident occurred. They also were cooperative. They have him under surveillance and are assured they will be paid should he bring anything home I suspect may not be paid for.

Be alert when shopping together. An item can be concealed inside a shirt and under a jacket when your back is turned just a moment. I search him before we leave the store - once outside the door, it is too late.

Prevent him from driving - this may be difficult if he is determined to drive. An extra notch can be put in his ignition key so it doesn't fit the lock. Constant vigilance must be maintained so he doesn't appropriate your keys. Also, a garage man can show you how to remove the ignition cable, a simple task. Preventing this driving limits the area he can cover.

My attorney advises if he shoplifts too many times at one store and the owner decides to press charges, he may be committed to a home. Although it seems harsh justice for shoplifting items worth $4-$6, I am not going to challenge it. I visit with the store managers and inquire if there are any problems.

I have advised my neighbors of the situation. They have been very sympathetic and willing to help should the need arise.

Of course, a notice listing the individual's problem, plus phone numbers, placed in a prominent place in his wallet, is important. I believe arrest was avoided once because of it. One should avoid going through the ordeal of a court proceeding, if possible.

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