Alarming Issue at Homes for Seniors: Fatal Wanderings

'Washington Post' counts near 100 deaths at assisted-living facilities
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 25, 2023 4:55 PM CST
ALF Probe Examines 'the Rock We Don't Want to Look Under
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/PeopleImages)

Living in an assisted-living facility isn't cheap, running an average of $6,000 a month, but families are willing to pay that to ensure their loved ones are well cared for and safe. That safety part is now under scrutiny, however, after a Washington Post investigation that has found upward of 2,000 people since 2018 who've wandered away from their ALFs or dementia care units, or been left unattended outside, leading to almost 100 deaths—"though the exact number is unknowable because no one is counting." The paper notes that those deaths were mostly from exposure to the elements, though others died from drowning, being hit by cars, and ending up in ditches. One particularly horrible case the Post uncovered involved a 77-year-old North Carolina man who died of organ failure after being stung by yellow jackets and attacked by fire ants.

These "elopements"—what ALF staffers call it when someone wanders off without anyone noticing—took place even at the most expensive facilities, and even after other residents had been hurt or died. Among the cases the Post examined, state inspectors pointed to such issues as not enough staffers to properly handle the number of residents, employees dozing on the job and ignoring alarms, doctored records, and "general neglect." And the families of wanderers don't always get a straight story. Police records show that the relatives of one 86-year-old woman who died in Colorado were told the woman "passed outside watching the sun set, an activity that she loved"—in actuality, she'd been left in a scorching courtyard for six hours. "Assisted living is the rock we don't want to look under," says a Texas A&M University professor who's studied the issue. Read the entire piece here. (More assisted living stories.)

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