BY CHARLIE FIDELMAN, GAZETTE HEALTH REPORTER AUGUST 2, 2013

That a collection of 180 long guns, bayonets and other weapons were left in the hands of an elderly man whose mental abilities have been declining for some time is alarming, a Montreal expert in aging said Thursday.

Côte St-Luc resident Isidore Havis, 71, who held police at bay for 20 hours before being taken into custody by police Wednesday morning, has been suffering from dementia, his lawyer Jeffrey Boro told The Gazette. “It has got a lot worse recently.”

Police discovered a large collection of firearms registered to the Guelph Ave. home only once the siege had ended.

Described by neighbours as hostile and confrontational, Havis had barricaded himself inside the house after Hydro-Québec workers tried to carry out work on his property.

“It is an unfortunate situation that escalated out of control with terrible consequences, both for (his) family and the police,” Boro said.

The standoff in Côte St-Luc ended after Havis was shot with two rubber bullets; one police officer suffered minor injuries.

However, Havis’s mental decline was already evident as far back as 2008, during an arrest of his son at the house on child pornography-related charges. The elder Havis attempted to interfere with his son’s arrest. Court records show that police described the elder Havis as acting “disoriented” at the time.

Three years ago, a 90-year-old Australian woman with advanced vascular dementia beat her husband, 98, to death in their apartment with a desk lamp, flowerpot and a walking stick.

But extreme acts of violence are rare in people with dementia, said McGill University professor and neurologist Howard Chertow.

Less serious aggressive behaviour is more common, and it’s usually directed against people closest to them, their caregivers. More often, the elderly sufferers of dementia are themselves victims of abuse, emotional or financial, and are easy prey for fraud and telemarketing scams, Chertow said

The aging population is especially prone to a number of neurological conditions such as dementia, and the condition is not simply a matter of memory loss. Dementia can produce psychiatric symptoms, usually depression and apathy, but also paranoia and violence — and these symptoms are made worse by memory loss, said Chertow, who is also director of the aging research axis at the Lady Davis Institute of the Jewish General Hospital.

“Someone previously calm and polite can become aggressive, agitated and anxious,” Chertow said. “They can’t find something in the home became they can’t remember where they put it. They become paranoid that they’re being robbed, they fear the neighbours and barricade themselves at home.”

There may also be changes in perception, he added. “One patient saw a stranger when she looked in the mirror and became frightened of the stranger in her home.”

The science of violent behaviour is not clearly understood, but research suggests that the frontal lobes of the brain which are responsible for social control are deteriorating. Inappropriate behaviour may suggest the early stages of dementia, Chertow said.

Doctors and family members of those affected by dementia must consider a series of issues, Chertow said, for example, can the person live alone, drive a car, cook a meal or handle money?

“Clearly someone with cognitive impairment should not have any access to weapons,” he said. “These are basic safety issues.”

Incidents of dementia sufferers burning down their homes after trying to cook, wandering off and dying in snowbanks, or having driving or firearm accidents — “all that reflect that somehow the system didn’t work.”

Nona Moscovitz, responsible for mental health and addiction services at CSSS Cavendish community health agency, said that people are reticent to discuss any type of violence including family, conjugal or elder abuse.

“They may feel there are risks involved and they’re protecting a family member because if it’s brought out, steps might be taken to remove the individual,” Moscovitz said. “It’s a tough topic. And violence can be unpredictable.”

cfidelman@montrealgazette.com

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