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Assisted Living Horror Stories: Should you Worry?

“Assisted Living Resident Falls Three Stories to Death.” “Alzheimer’s Patient Wanders Away from Facility.”  “Resident with Dementia Victim of Sexual Abuse.”  Headlines such as these have popped up in newspapers around the nation.  As you transfer the responsibility of caring for a loved one, it’s easy to fear the worst case scenario.  While tragedies due happen, they are rare.  And, if you do your due diligence when choosing a facility, you can rest assured that your parent will be in good hands.  Nevertheless, understand what could go wrong will help you make a better informed decision.

Courtesy: Flikr's IaRuth

Courtesy: Flikr's IaRuth

Scenario 1:   A resident with Alzheimer’s or dementia wanders away from the facility. If your loved one has severe cognitive deterioration, you should look for a facility that offers locked down living areas.  Make sure your facility is well staffed.  Take note of whether the staff knows the residents by name.  The more intimate the environment, the more quickly a missing resident will be noticed.  Less important is the location of the assisted living center.  Ideally the facility is located away from busy highways or dangerous waterways.  Also, be wary of dangers within the facility itself.  In 2003, an 83 year-old Michigan man with dementia wandered into a kitchen at an assisted living facility and consumed an industrial dishwashing detergent.  While touring a facility, make sure that harmful chemicals are kept out of reach of at-risk residents.

Scenario 2:  A resident with diminished mental capacity is sexually involved with another resident. At a certain point, a person whose mental capacity has diminished is unable to consent to sexual activity.  Unfortunately, it is hard to determine when that line has been crossed.  Assisted Living Facilities in most states are under no more legal obligation to monitor residents’ sexual activity then a landlord is to monitor its tenets.  It is particularly distressing for families when a married parent becomes involved in an extramarital affair.  If your loved one is no longer able to consent to sexual activity, inquire as to how the facility prevents sexual abuse. At a certain point, you may want to consider a nursing home where the facility is legally obligated to protect its residents.

Scenario 3:  The facility fails to administer medications to a resident properly and as a result her health suffers as a result. Routine medical errors of this kind plague all levels of health care from hospitals to nursing homes.  Inquire as to the training of the staff who administers drugs.  Play an active role in organizing drugs and encourage the resident to keep a log of the medications she takes.

Accidents can happen, but doing your homework will prevent you from sending your loved one to a dysfunctional facility.  As always, you should check your state’s inspect reports to see if a facility has experienced incidents in the past.  It can be scary to pass the responsibility of care to a third-party, but keep in mind that accidents are just as likely to happen at home.  Seniors can just as easily fall at home and break a hip or forget to turn off the oven.  Assisted living facilities are well situated to prevent and mitigate the harm from these more routine accidents.

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