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Dementia and the aging population: cognitive screening within correctional health

Lance Washington (Department of Research and Consulting, National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute, Falls Church, Virginia, USA)

International Journal of Prisoner Health

ISSN: 1744-9200

Article publication date: 29 June 2022

Issue publication date: 16 March 2023




The purpose of this study was to examine the literature surrounding dementia in the aging correctional population and assess the role of cognitive screening related to dementia detection within corrections. The literature regarding the role of dementia within the justice continuum is scant. Furthermore, correctional health researchers have not reached a consensus on the best age to administer cognitive screening in older persons or prioritizes a screening tool for the early detection of dementia.


A key search term list including dementia screening and was developed to review the literature surrounding dementia and the aging correctional population. PubMed, Criminal Justice Abstracts (Ebsco) and the National Criminal Justice Reference Service were used within the academic search. A gray literature search using these same search terms was conducted reviewing criminal justice federal agencies and organizations for additional information on the dementia experience within correctional settings. Snowballing was used to capture relevant theoretical and empirical knowledge.


Shortages in aging specialized health-care staffing presents a barrier for the clinical interpretation of Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) results. Correctional officers are also identified as useful candidates within the administration of cognitive screening with proper training. The MoCA may be the optimal cognitive screening tool for dementia, until an original cognitive screening tool is created specific to the correctional population. An age of 55 years or older may serve as the best cutoff score for classifying incarcerated individuals as older persons, and screening should be prioritized for these individuals. Finally, new specialized programs related to dementia within correctional settings are identified.

Research limitations/implications

A limitation of this research is the conflicting opinions among researchers regarding the use of general cognitive screening tools within the correctional setting.


This research can inform correctional organizational policy and practices regarding the screening of older persons suspected of dementia. Most notably, this research proposes that correctional settings should incorporate the MoCA within initial screening of all individuals 55 years of age or older, enriching the job design of correctional officer's job positions to include cognitive testing, and for correctional settings to provide dementia and age-associated training for correctional officers. Finally, this paper informs future research in the development of a cognitive assessment tool specific to the correctional population.



Washington, L. (2023), "Dementia and the aging population: cognitive screening within correctional health", International Journal of Prisoner Health, Vol. 19 No. 1, pp. 63-76.



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