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Are assisted living facilities safe for people with dementia?

As the American population ages, there's been considerable growth in the assisted living industry. Approximately 40 percent of the people in assisted living facilities have dementia. Unfortunately, the people who work in many of these facilities aren't trained or equipped to properly care for them. This can be dangerous for those residents suffering from dementia as well as for other residents.

Some of our readers may remember the tragic 2016 case of a 90-year-old woman with dementia whose body was found in a pond behind the South Carolina assisted living facility where she'd been living. She'd been attacked by at least one of the alligators that lived in the pond. This wasn't the first time she'd slipped out unnoticed, but no one had noticed that the woman had gotten out of Brookdale Charleston until her body was discovered some seven hours later.

The facility settled a wrongful death case brought by the woman's estate. Now her granddaughter is suing for emotional distress. She was one of the first people on the scene when her grandmother's body was found.

The facility said it implemented new training for the staff after what it called the "unfortunate accident." However, within a year, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control found 11 violations, including problems with night checks and low staffing levels. The facility was fined just $6,400.

The attorney for the woman's granddaughter says there's a larger issue of assisted living facilities taking in residents they can't properly care for to increase their income. As an analysis by Kaiser Health News points out, "Many of these are for-profit entities. They are setting staffing ratios that...are more about the bottom line of their profits" than the care of their residents.

Because dementia patients can be prone to violent behavior, their fellow patients are at risk if those patients aren't properly supervised by people trained to care for those with dementia.

Lack of staffing can lead to issues for all patients, whether they have dementia or not -- including falls, dehydration, malnutrition, infections and bed sores. If a loved one suffered an injury or illness in an assisted living facility or nursing home that you believe was preventable, it's wise to explore your legal options. You may be able to seek justice and compensation for your loved one and help prevent the suffering of others.

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