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Siphoning of funds from dementia patient in shoplifting case highlights risks

A case in which a dementia patient convicted for shoplifting was found to have had money siphoned from her account has highlighted the risk of patients becoming both perpetrators and victims.

Diminished judgment among such patients means that they are at serious risk of spiraling into poverty as other people withdraw their money.

"Dementia patients can become either 'perpetrators' or 'victims.' To prevent crimes happening in the future, it is essential that they get the day-to-day support they need," one expert told the Mainichi Shimbun.

In September 2015, a 78-year-old woman from Saitama Prefecture was arrested on suspicion of stealing food and other items from a supermarket. She stressed her innocence but was sentenced to 10 months in prison by the Kumagaya Summary Court. The woman had also stolen in the past, and was therefore not granted parole.

Her lawyer, who handled her appeal at Tokyo High Court, became suspicious upon learning that she said she was in a "government-run dormitory" and that "it was expensive to house her because she was on her own." The attorney had the woman undergo a medical check-up and she was diagnosed with dementia.

The lawyer then looked even further into the woman's situation. He discovered that an acquaintance was looking after her bank card and passbook, and was withdrawing money without her knowledge from her account -- which was being supplemented with about 3 million yen each year from her late husband's pension fund.

Although it was unclear how and why the acquaintance came to keep the passbook and card, the lawyer states that more than 10 million yen (about $94,000) had been withdrawn. The woman's dwindling finances meant that her electricity was cut off, and she began to lose weight due to an insufficient diet.

The Tokyo High Court recognized that large sums of money had been withdrawn from the woman's account from 2011 onward. It also ruled that the woman's judgment had been weakened due to conditions such as dementia, and therefore overturned the lower court's ruling, handing down a 10-month prison sentence, suspended for three years. The woman is now said to be living peacefully in a home for elderly people, made possible in part by support from the lawyer.

Eriko Ikeda, the head of a Tokyo-based advocacy group called, "Ai Kenri Yogo Shien Netto" says, "There are cases of dementia patients, unable to stand up for themselves, being driven into theft by poverty. It is essential that investigative agencies and welfare groups work together to solve this problem."

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