Senior living provides a great safe environment that mitigates many risks, but not all.

By Steve Moran

A reader sent me a link to this article titled Alzheimer’s patient killed by roommate; widow crusades for prevention at MSN. It is a heartbreaking story . . .  it does not come close to talking about the issues. I was particularly bothered by the last line of the story, which is the title of this article.

“At some point, there has to be a place where people are safe. And evidently, that place is hard to find.”

The Story

There were two men with Alzheimer’s and they ended up more or less by happenstance as roommates in a memory care community in Youngsville, North Carolina. Larry was a plumbing wholesaler who had become combative and a wanderer. His roommate Gene was 90 years old. He was regionally a big name in the golf world. He had zero history of violence.

On September 3, 2014, Gene attacked Larry with a golf trophy. He was immediately transferred to the hospital and two weeks later he died. He was 63 years old.

The Aftermath

The incident left Larry’s widow Kathie completely unsatisfied. Gene, the aggressor, was cooperative with sheriff investigators. The sheriff’s office refused to file charges because of Gene’s dementia. Neither the district attorney’s office or State Department of Health took any action. In fact they found no fault and made no recommendations.

The Widow’s Perspective

  • No one has shown any interest in investigating further.

  • From her way of thinking the county wrote off her husband’s death as one crazy person killing another.

  • She has three questions that have become her passion: (1) Are we doing enough to care for people who can’t care for themselves, (2) who is responsible when they hurt each other? and (3) Why did this happen?

Worst Nightmare

The wife demands answers, she wants it never to happen again, it is a sad sympathetic story. I feel horrible for the wife’s loss and yet . . . from an operator’s perspective, was it preventable?  

The practical answer is no. While not knowing for sure, it seems almost certain that both men had modest financial resources, which is why they were sharing a room. Could it have been prevented? I guess theoretically in one of three ways:

  1. 24/7 one-on-one or two-on-one supervision. Two problems with this: privacy and cost.

  2. Enough drugs to gork them out at night, all night, but then we have significant quality of life issues and certainly regulatory issues.

  3. Physical restraints, which would have the same issues that pharmacological restraints have.

We Have to Tell The Whole Truth

This woman placed her husband in this community thinking it would protect her and him. 99.999999% that would have happened. There is a blunt reality that we human beings are never 100% predictable 100% of the time. This is even more true with dementia residents. This may sound harsh, but I wish I could ask this wife what she would propose be done to prevent this incredibly rare occurrence.   

To live is to be at risk, from drunk drivers, cancer, stray bullets, crazy criminals and more. Senior living provides a great, safe environment that mitigates many risks, but not all. This is reality and, as best we can, we need to convey that reality to resident families.

A Final Note: It is very possible that the management of this community did a great job of conveying the risk and she just never expected it to happen to her husband.