Your phone rings.
You recognize the number as your sister’s.
You can’t help but think, this is going to be bad news.
“Hey, what’s going on?”
Your sister replies, “I don’t know how to tell you this… but, Dad murdered Mom!”
A pit in your stomach consumes you after hearing the shocking news.
Then denial, confusion, anger, and ultimately, sadness follow.
How could something like this even happen? You’ve noticed your father has been a little more forgetful and sometimes more argumentative and emotional than he used be, but we’re all guilty of those behaviors at times.
You could never fathom that the sweet and caring man who raised you could do this to his wife of 40 years. And, not just his wife — your mother. The loving and patient woman who supported you throughout your life.
It just seems impossible.
Unfortunately, hundreds, if not thousands, of these calls have been received by families in recent years.
Violence and Aging
Murder and assault cases involving people in their 80s and even 90s are in the news frequently.
And these are just the cases we are hearing about– there are suspected to be thousands of cases of violence committed by seniors annually going unreported.
Senior violence is most prevalent in intimate partner relationships, but as you will see in the following cases, it also happens in more distant relationships — even with strangers.
We’ll give you some suggestions on how to prevent this from happening to you and your family.
But first, let’s review some cases…
On an unassuming October morning in Florida, 93-year-old Ralph Parker got into his car and drove off from his home. Mr. Parker didn’t get very far before he hit a 52- year-old pedestrian — severing his leg and sending the limb sailing 10 feet in the air. Parker kept driving.
The lifeless head and shoulders of the pedestrian were now lodged halfway in the car’s windshield, obscuring Parker’s view with shattered glass and blood while the limp torso and legs dangled across the car’s hood.
Parker drove for three miles, completely unaware of the dead body smashed through his windshield.
A toll booth attendant on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge was the first to encounter the gruesome scene.
At first, the attendant thought someone had gotten overzealous with their Halloween pranks — then she saw that Parker, the body, and the entire inside of the car were covered in blood.
Parker’s Car. Photo: Cherie Diaz St. Pete Times
Once authorities arrived, Parker reported he had no idea what happened. His only explanation was the body had “fallen out of the sky.”
In order to be charged with death of the pedestrian, the prosecutors would have to prove Parker was mentally competent to stand trial. Furthermore, they would have to prove Parker was aware of his crimes in the first place.
Not an easy feat, as he seemed to think the person he had killed had dropped onto the hood of his car out of the atmosphere.
Parker had shown some signs of agitation and irrational thoughts in the week before the incident. In fact, at the time of the accident, Parker’s son was on his way to Florida from Idaho to help get his father to a safe place.1
The intervention was too little too late to save the life of the unfortunate pedestrian.
Last month, 90-year-old Kenneth Bowser and his son Larry were planning on watching a football game. At the time, Kenneth was watching television in his upstairs room when Larry came in and asked his father to join him in the living room to watch the game.
Kenneth refused to come downstairs and watch the game with Larry.
Larry came back up to Kenneth’s room one more time and started to remove the cables from the television in an effort to get his father to come downstairs and watch the game.
In a failed attempt to scare off his son, Kenneth shot and killed him with a .38-caliber revolver.
When asked his reasoning for shooting his son, Kenneth reported he had seen a story on the news where a son had killed his father and set him on fire and was paranoid that Larry might try to do something like that to him.
Neighbors reported that Larry was a caring and attentive son and that Kenneth’s behavior had become increasingly more difficult for Larry to manage.
Kenneth is currently being held in a Minnesota prison, where he holds the state record for oldest prisoner. He took the eldest prisoner title from Pang Vang, 84, who coincidentally also shot and killed his son in an argument about television. Vang died prior to sentencing.2
In February, a 76-year-old man, Gerald Propp, was brutally beaten by 87-year-old Homer Castor. Propp was taken by ambulance, but later died as a result of the very serious injuries to the left side of his brain and face.
Propp and Castor were both residents at a senior-living facility. According to the facility’s records, Castor had assaulted Propp 10 days prior to the murder.
In addition to the assault, Castor had told his wife previously “[Propp] makes me so mad I want to punch him out.” It seems that Castor had fixated on Propp, continually becoming more and more paranoid of Propp’s presence.
Castor reported to police that Propp had come to his room in the middle of the night to “beat him up.” Castor then stated he feared that Propp had gone back to his room and only “pretended to sleep.” Reports indicate that Castor was confused and “difficult to understand” when questioned about the murder.
Castor’s wife told nursing home staff that Castor’s cognitive issues had started three years prior to the slaying and started with difficulty remembering names. 4
Intimate Partner Violence
Intimate partner violence includes physical and sexual violence, as well as stalking and psychological aggression by a spouse or partner.
Intimate partner violence constitutes a majority of dementia-related murder cases. Unfortunately, it’s particularly difficult to find accurate data on how often this occurs in the United States. Most homicide data are not stratified by categories that provide reliable statistics specifically on dementia-related murder or intimate partner violence.
However, if you glance over the national news, you will undoubtedly find cases.
Thus far in 2015, San Francisco area courts alone have seen three cases of intimate partner violence.
In February, Ahn Thai, 84, stabbed his wife to death. Prior to the murder, Thai had been experiencing physical and mental decline and was said to be “struggling” while in county jail.
In July, Masaharu Ono, 89, stabbed his wife to death. Ono’s public defender reports he remembers nothing about the killing of his wife and “hardly anything about a lot of things.”
Ono is a Japanese immigrant who has few relatives in America and was likely experiencing some degree of social isolation in the time leading up the murder.
Only a few days after Ono’s arrest, David Wolff, 87, stabbed and brutalized his wife of 30 years. Wolff was found naked in the woods near his house. Authorities had a lengthy standoff with Wolff before being able to safely take him into custody.
Fortunately, Wolff’s wife survived the ordeal, but she suffered stab wounds to her torso, hands, and arms.4
Friends and family described Wolff as a kind and gentle man. These sudden personality changes and his penchant for violence were new and shocking characteristics.
What did all of these senior citizens have in common? What was the factor increasing their violent and fatal behavior?
The Common Thread
Prior to committing violent crimes, all of these perpetrators were diagnosed with dementia.
And they aren’t alone. Some 35.6 million people worldwide suffer from dementia and 5.2 million of them reside here in the United States.5
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke highlights the key points of dementia as follows:
- Dementia is not a specific disease. It is a descriptive term for a collection of symptoms that can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the brain.
- People with dementia have significantly impaired intellectual functioning that interferes with normal activities and relationships.
- They also lose their ability to solve problems and maintain emotional control, and they may experience personality changes and behavioral problems, such as agitation, delusions, and hallucinations.
- Some of the diseases that can cause symptoms of dementia are Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, Lewy body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Huntington’s disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
- Although it is common in very elderly individuals, dementia is not a normal part of the aging process.6
Wait… it’s not a normal part of the aging process?
That’s right, normal cognitive aging varies greatly from dementia.
Symptoms of normal cognitive aging include difficulty in learning and recalling new information, increased troubles with multitasking, and slowing of reaction times.
Persons with dementia are unable to complete daily functions (cooking, bathing, paying bills, etc.), are unaware of memory loss, lack insight, have poor judgement, and exhibit behavioral changes (anger, agitation, and irritability).7
As shown in the cases profiled above, dementia symptoms can cause impulsive, dangerous, and even deadly behavior. Unfortunately for the perpetrators, victims, and families, dementia creates many layers of pain.
Taking preventative steps early in the brain-health game increases your chances of maintaining normal cognitive functions and halting the disease process.
Eating right, exercising, and creative activities (which we will dive into next week) are all part of a healthy brain regimen.
In addition, there are other natural brain boosters you can incorporate into your routine to get a head start on aging and neurodegenerative disorders.
Natural Cognitive Enhancers
Bacopa monnieri is an herb long used in ayurvedic medicine. It’s been theorized that Bacopa was used by shamans to improve their concentration and memory recall.8
In more recent times, studies have shown Bacopa to assist in human ability to retain and process new information faster.
One double-blind study done on elderly patients showed Bacopa to have positive results on multiple measures of cognitive performance and mood. Participants in the study showed improvement in recall memory, decreased depression, and lower levels of anxiety.9
Meaning Bacopa may have potential to increase cognitive performance safely, even in aging populations.
A recent study showed Ginko biloba increased the logical memory test scores and picture recognition in patients suffering from mild cognitive impairment—the transitional stage between normal aging and dementia.
The study reports:
“Ginkgo biloba extract has been shown to possess polyvalent properties, such as anti-oxidation, anti-apoptosis and anti-inflammation. Ginkgo biloba extract appears to have a neuroprotective effect against neurodegenerative diseases.”10
This means the protective powers of ginkgo may help shield your brain from the destructive processes of aging. The study results showed the participants taking gingko scored 20 percent higher on cognitive memory tests than the control group.
These two powerful brain-boosting herbs will make great additions to your daily mind-preservation protocol and help you fight brain aging.
Next week, we will discuss the roles of diet, exercise, and environmental toxins play in brain health with a memory disorder psychiatrist.
Also, we will introduce you to a tool used to assess mild cognitive impairment so you can see how neurodegeneration is affecting you.
And we will take a look at a childhood pastime that is making a colorful comeback– and with good reason!
Managing editor, Living Well Daily
P.S. I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to drop me a line about your health concerns!
 Inside Dementia
 Calabrese C, Gregory WL, Leo M, Kraemer D, Bone K, Oken B. Effects of a Standardized Bacopa monnieri Extract on Cognitive Performance, Anxiety, and Depression in the Elderly: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2008;14(6):707-713. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0018.
 Zhao MX, Dong ZH, Yu ZH, Xiao SY, Li YM. Effects of Ginkgo biloba extract in improving episodic memory of patients with mild cognitive impairment: a randomized controlled trial. J Chin Integr Med / Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Xue Bao. 2012; 10(6): 628-634