The police bulletins come marked urgent, describing a nightmare for anyone with loved ones suffering from dementia: Elderly man, eyes brown, hair black. Last seen in green jacket and pants. Has wandered away from facility. Cannot be found.
A surge of such reports from local police departments have raised the alarm about the current challenges of securing Assisted Living Facilities (ALFs), as elder care gets more expensive and out of reach for many Floridians. More and more families are turning to Assisted Living Facilities (ALF), particularly for those suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. These center provide housing, meals, and supportive services to those unable to live independently, at costs usually lower that nursing homes.
But Lucille Maragh, a retired nurse and former owner of three ALFs, says securing such facilities proves an enduring challenge.
“The situation is worse when these elderly relatives are afflicted with the devastating Alzheimer’s disease,” says Maragh. “One of the more severe problems was keeping some of these residents from wandering away. They cannot be locked away 24/7. They need fresh air and exercise, and sometimes they try to slip way.”
Florida Department of Elder Affairs investigator, Phyllis Montero, says the department closely monitors ALFs to ensure they offer adequate security
“But some [ALFs], for economic reasons, may compromise with their security measures, resulting in lapses and patients wandering away,” says Montero, though acknowledging that such practices are “still the exception.”
Maragh said at her facilities, the premises were surrounded by walled fences. But “even with the walls, we had patients who tried to climb them to get away. So we also had to have security guards on duty to ensure no residents try to wander off.”
Moreno admitted that caring for Alzheimer’s patients “is particularly challenging.” Over 500,000 Floridians who have the disease create a home-care problem for families. While some AFLs provide appropriate care during the early stages of the disease, such facilities may not be enough as the disease progresses.
One solution for families, suggests Moreno, is Florida’s Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative (ADI). Operated by the Department of Elder Affairs, ADI provides services in specialized adult daycare centers that care for Alzheimer’s patients as the disease progresses.
“Some families, unaware of the ADI services, may place their elderly relatives with Alzheimer’s in an AFL, resulting in possible security problems,” says Moreno. “AFLs are more suitable for elderly individuals who do not require 24-hour nursing supervision.”