Cognition and Incarceration: Cognitive Impairment and Its Associated Outcomes in Older Adults in Jail

J Am Geriatr Soc. 2018 Nov;66(11):2065-2071. doi: 10.1111/jgs.15521. Epub 2018 Sep 19.


Objectives: To determine prevalence of, and outcomes associated with, a positive screen for cognitive impairment in older adults in jail.

Design: Combined data from cross-sectional (n=185 participants) and longitudinal (n=125 participants) studies.

Setting: Urban county jail.

Participants: Individuals in jail aged 55 and older (N = 310; mean age 59, range 55-80). Inclusion of individuals aged 55 and older is justified because the criminal justice system defines "geriatric prisoners" as those aged 55 and older.

Measurements: Baseline and follow-up assessments of health, psychosocial factors, and cognitive status (using the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA)); 6-month acute care use and repeat arrest assessed in those followed longitudinally.

Results: Participants were of low socioeconomic status (85% annual income < $15,000) and predominantly nonwhite (75%). Many (70%) scored less than 25 on the MoCA; those with a low MoCA score were more likely to be nonwhite (81% vs 62%, p<.001) and report fair or poor health (54% vs 41%, p=.04). Over 6 months, a MoCA score of less than 25 was associated with multiple emergency department visits (32% vs 13%, p=.02), hospitalization (35% vs 16%, p=.03), and repeat arrests (45% vs 21%, p=.01).

Conclusions: Cognitive impairment is prevalent in older adults in jail and is associated with adverse health and criminal justice outcomes. A geriatric approach to jail-based and transitional health care should be developed to assess and address cognitive impairment. Additional research is needed to better assess cognitive impairment and its consequences in this population. J Am Geriatr Soc 66:2065-2071, 2018.

Keywords: cognition; cognitive impairment; criminal justice; jail; vulnerable population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognitive Dysfunction / epidemiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prisons
  • United States