Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Demented Voters Have High Turnout

WASHINGTON POST - Florida neurologist Marc Swerdloff was taken aback when one of his patients with advanced dementia voted in the 2000 presidential election. The man thought it was 1942 and Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. The patient's wife revealed that she had escorted her husband into the booth. "I said 'Did he pick?' and she said 'No, I picked for him,' " Swerdloff said. "I felt bad. She essentially voted twice" in the Florida election, which gave George W. Bush a 537-vote victory and the White House.

As swing states with large elderly populations such as Florida gear up for another presidential election, a sleeper issue has been gaining attention on medical, legal and political radar screens: Many people with advanced dementia appear to be voting in elections -- including through absentee ballot. Although there are no national statistics, two studies in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island found that patients at dementia clinics turned out in higher numbers than the general population.

About 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, the most common cause of dementia. Florida alone has 455,000 patients, advocates estimate.

Concern is growing that people with dementia may be targets for partisan exploitation in nursing homes and other facilities. Even without abuse, family members and caregivers may unduly influence close elections. . .

Ott surveyed 100 patients at a Rhode Island dementia clinic after the 2000 presidential election and found that 60 percent had voted. In another survey, Jason H.T. Karlawish and other researchers found that 64 percent of patients attending a dementia clinic in Pennsylvania had voted in the same election.

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