Japan: An elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease has killed his grandson. He says he doesn’t remember

In a court in western Japan Last month, 88-year-old Susumu Tomizawa admitted to killing her 16-year-old grandson, Tomomi, two years ago, but said she did not remember doing so.

Tomizawa has Alzheimer’s disease. In court, his lawyers argued that he should not be prosecuted because his illness leads to dementia, which is accompanied by many cognitive impairments such as memory loss.

“At the time, he was mentally ill and had been under the influence of alcohol, so he did not confess,” they said.

However, the Fukui City Court did not agree.

On May 31, Tomizawa was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for murder.

The incident came as a shock to many in Japan, an elderly country with a growing number of elderly people with dementia.

The trial, which was broadcast live, was carefully watched and sympathized with Tomizawa and the loss of Tomomi’s family.

They stabbed him to death

According to the court, Tomizawa and Tomomi lived in their home in Fukui.

On the night of September 9, 2020, they got into an argument and the teenager died.

Tomizawa recalled drinking heavily that evening. In a drunken state, he took a 17-centimeter (about 7-inch) kitchen knife, entered Tomomi’s bedroom, and stabbed her several times in the neck, a court heard last month.

According to the court, Tomizawa called his eldest son and told him that he had found Tomomi’s blood-stained body. Shortly afterwards, police arrived at the scene and arrested an elderly man.

Tomizawa’s mental state was the focus of her trial as doctors, lawyers and judges debated whether she had deliberately killed her grandson.

Doctors assessed his condition and said he had some motive for the murder. Forensic psychiatrist Hiroki Nakagawa told the court: “His actions were purposeful and consistent with his intent to kill.”

Prosecutors say the elderly man was able to control his actions despite his illness and was able to “judge right from wrong.”

In his ruling, the judge acknowledged that Tomizawa had Alzheimer’s disease, but said he understood the weight of his actions. “After careful examination and consultation with the accused, we [made] judge carefully, ”Judge Yoshinobu Kawamura said.

“The defendant was mentally exhausted at the time of the crime and had a hard time assessing whether he was right or wrong or refusing to commit the crime, but he was not in a position to do so. . “

mental illness

According to experts, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of defect that affects the elderly.

“It’s a degenerative disease of the brain,” said Jason Friszell, a psychologist who specializes in criminal justice. “In almost all cases, a person’s ability gradually decreases over time.”

The disease attacks the brain and worsens as memory deteriorates. According to Friszell, a professor at Arizona State University, symptoms such as paranoia, agitation, confusion, and even a violent outburst can occur.

– Of course, not every patient [display] the same set of symptoms. The context of the situation can also play a role in aggression – whether the patient is afraid of places or strangers, ”he said.

Quick facts about Alzheimer's disease

Jacob Rajesh, a senior forensic psychiatrist at Promises Healthcare in Singapore, said it would be “difficult to say exactly what really happened” during Alzheimer’s rapid development.

“There is also the question of whether a person is fit to stand trial – whether he is fit to testify in court and plead guilty or not.” he said.

According to experts, the crimes of dementia are also very serious.

“Unlike other motivations, such as anger or punishment, we can reasonably explain the extent of their behavior through the disease itself,” Friesell said. He also emphasized moral and ethical values.

“How can we effectively or justifiably judge a person who may be completely debilitated in a few years’ time? Does being kind to a mentally ill person contradict the public’s view of justice?”

“Prisons are full of prisoners”

Japan has one of the world’s oldest populations. According to the government, more than 20% of its population is over 65 years old and the number of Japanese centenarians is growing.

Dementia mainly affects the elderly, and it is estimated that there are more than 4.6 million people living with the disease in Japan. According to experts, their number will increase significantly as the country continues to age rapidly.

Violent crimes committed by patients with Japanese dementia are rare, but in 2014, a similar incident involving Tomizawa strangled an 82-year-old woman in a hospice. He was sentenced to three years in prison for his condition.

In Japan, a record 100 people are 100 years old, probably women.

Koichi Hamai, an expert in criminal justice and law at Ryukoku University in Kyoto, said Japan’s prisons were full of mentally retarded elderly prisoners. “The number of elderly people being detained is increasing and we need to take various measures [address it]. ”

Tomomi and his grandfather lived in Fukui, one of Japan’s least populous prefectures, and according to the government, one in three people is over 65 years old.

The details of their lives were rare, but observers highlighted issues such as aggression and domestic violence that were common among Alzheimer’s patients and their depressed caregivers.

“Patients with dementia are known to act against those who care for them, those closest to them,” said Rajesh, a forensic psychiatrist.

“Patients [like Tomizawa] It takes a lot of monitoring and management to be at home and its presence is not immediately apparent. ”

CNN’s Emiko Jozuka and Kathleen Benoza contributed to the report.

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