Advocate Story

All she wanted was a little sun

By Tony Polk

Beautiful elderly happy couple

Not long ago, Michael, our advocate in Broward County, Florida, got a phone call from an assisted living facility he worked with.  The manager wanted him to find a new home for one of its residents, a  99-year-old woman who they felt had memory loss and had started wandering out of the facility.  

As a former nursing home and assisted living manager who had run multiple facilities with up to 750 residents, Michael immediately understood the problem: Wanderers strike fear in the hearts of facilities managers. Not only do they endanger themselves, but they also endanger the facilities and the managers.  Assisted living facilities that lose wandering residents are subject to civil litigation, as are the managers, personally, themselves.

The obvious call was to move the resident into a locked Memory Care facility.

But as Michael sat with the woman and her son he found her to be fairly alert and in fairly good health.  She spoke virtually no English, though she understood a little, but she was hard of hearing, so communication was frustrating.  Mostly through her son translating, Michael soon learned the nature of the “wandering” problem.

This was a large campus.  The assisted living floors of the facility were upstairs with no porches and the woman hungered in sit in the sun. So every afternoon she took the elevator down to the first floor and went outside to sit on a bench and bask in the afternoon.warmth. To return to her room, she walked passed the unlocked front door and got into the elevator. But sometimes she forgot which floor she was on and got off on the wrong floor. With her inability to speak English, she didn’t ask the staff for directions. Instead, she “wandered” looking for her room.  And, though she had some memory loss,  it was mostly her inability to speak English and her hearing loss that created communication difficulties.

“She wasn’t running away. She just wanted to get some air,” Michael said.  “There is a critical distinction between a person who is confused and someone who poses a real risk of elopement.”  Elopement is the industry term for wandering or running away.

Michael verified all this with the staff, and then recommended that the family consider other assisted living homes, not a locked Memory Care facility. He thought she would do better in an Assisted Living because residents in locked Memory Care units tend to be deeper in the grips of dementia. Also, Assisted Living usually costs less than Memory Care — in Florida typically $2500-$3500 a month versus $4000-$5000 a month.

He found his client a nice single room in a family-owned, single story facility of 45 beds. Many of the residents also had memory issues but like her, were not trying to run away. The room cost $2500 a month.  Sometimes family run communities offer some savings because the family does multiple jobs, and they don’t carry corporate overhead.  This family had been in business in several locations over 25 years and were known to be trustworthy and competent.

Most important for the client was that her room opened up to a spacious shaded patio, facing an enclosed, beautifully manicured french style garden with  rockers and huge potted plants.  “All she had to do was step outside and sit on the bench.” Michael said.

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