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Letter: The vulnerability of our elders

I have taken notice of recent news media accounts of Verne Gagne, former professional wrestler, assaulting a fellow resident in a long-term care facility, the injury being said to contribute to the man's death. The victim is described a having been in his upper 90s. It is a sad event and illustrates how devastating the disease of Alzheimer's can be for all of society. Too often, good-hearted and well-intentioned people who suffer from this illness show aberrant unpredictability.

What concerns me most, and from the perspective of having worked in the field of mental health for over 34 years, is how our system of care and treatment for such individuals has eroded over time. I recall closures in Minnesota of state nursing homes with names such as Oak Terrace and Ah Gwah Ching with apparently no "as-good" substitute or comparable facilities established. It is unfortunate that similarly afflicted people such as Gagne are to remain in their long-term care facility, much to the consternation of family members who have loved ones placed there as well. What if our former professional wrestler is to behaviorally "go off" again in an assaultive way? And it would appear that an undue burden is placed on facility staff to vigilantly guard against such repeat incidences, especially when financial and personnel resources at such places are so limited.

When the safety of vulnerable people is at stake, I get concerned. My parents, though 89 and 87 years old, are still able to manage living at home, but should the need for their nursing home placement become an issue, I am going to do some pointed questioning of nursing home staff and state agency regulators.