The bad news here started before daybreak Monday.
A snow plow driver found a 94-year-old woman dead from hypothermia outside an assisted living facility in the Cleveland suburbs.
A few hours later, a 78-year-old man hit the gas instead of the brake on his SUV and plowed through the front of strip mall diner, hitting two women inside, including a 76-year-old who later died.
And a search Wednesday for a couple — ages 88 and 79 — missing from their home in a tiny town ended within 24 hours when a passerby spotted their charred 1986 Pontiac on a dirt road about 30 miles away. Police said the bodies of the man and his wife were burned inside the car, but authorities don’t yet know how they died or who killed them.
The only thing connecting these incidents, other than proximity, is age: Everyone involved is between 76- and 94-years-old.
And it’s made me wonder what we should be doing differently since the U.S. senior citizen population — now more than 43 million people — will nearly double over the next 35 years.
I don’t have those answers, but I have questions:
Why isn’t there a thorough, dependable, free, up-to-the-minute Internet-accessible rating system for all senior citizen living facilities and care agencies?
Martha Jendrix, 94, died of hypothermia outside of Elmcroft of Sagamore Hills. She had a first-floor apartment in an assisted living section of the facility. Another part of the facility houses residents with dementia.
Police don’t suspect foul play, but they are still investigating how Jendrix ended up outside.
Four years ago, that Elmcroft location faced similar scrutiny after a patient with dementia wandered away from the facility twice, according to Cleveland.com.
The first time, a motorist pulled over, stopped traffic and saved the man who had wandered onto a major highway. Two weeks later, the same man wandered outside, but apparently never left Elmcroft’s campus.
The state ultimately cited Elmcroft for failing to come up with a plan to ensure the dementia resident stay inside.
Since then, Cleveland.com reported state of Ohio inspectors have documented other issues at Elmcroft, including:
–A residential assistant was fired after grabbed a dementia patient by the throat
–Insufficient staffing during night shifts. No one licensed to administer certain medications, oxygen and insulin was on duty even though 42 patients could have needed that help.
–Failing to monitor a 93-year-old hospice care patient with dementia after she fell twice in the same month and fractured her ankle.
Is Elmcroft doing better or worse than similar facilities? Who knows.
Caregivers trying to find a good place for their loved ones could pull state records. But that takes time. And even then, those records can paint an incomplete picture — for good or bad — because what is measured and reported may not be one of the family’s top priorities (like a particularly tender caregiver or an activities director who refuses to give up on a patient).
Online, Elmcroft consistently scores four out of five stars on three Websites where users can rate care centers.
And those ratings, of course, can be skewed because reviewers are anonymous. Anyone from spiteful former employees to the director of a facility trying to boost numbers can post a review and rating.
Should states re-test senior citizen drivers? And, are some seniors less likely to surrender their licenses — even though they know they should — because there are no transportation options available?
As soon as news broke about a senior citizen crashing through a diner, on-line commenters began calling for wholesale re-testing of senior citizens renewing driver’s licenses — or even an all-out ban on drivers over 80-years-old.
In this case, 78-year old Thomas Herrick told police that he (along with his wife and their dog) was pulling his 2014 GMC Yukon Denali into a parking space in front of the diner when he accidentally hit the gas pedal instead of the brake. The SUV smashed through the brick building and plate-glass window where two women in their 70s were eating.
One of those women later died, but her cause of death has not yet been made available.
Was Herrick’s age to blame for this incident? We don’t know.
To renew a driver’s license in Ohio, most seniors only need pass an eye exam. If a senior reports a medical condition, there may be other forms to fill out and driving limitations, but that is usually based on the driver ratting himself/herself out to the state.
The state doesn’t test reflexes or the driver’s ability to turn her neck so she can use all the mirrors to see what’s around. The state doesn’t test for dementia or night vision or scores of other important things that help keep drivers safe on the road.
From my own experience, no senior citizen wants to give up driving. I clearly remember my parents — dressed all in black — sneaking up to my grandparents house in the 1980s and “stealing” my grandfather’s car after my dad noticed how many nicks, dents and scrapes were on it.
My parents took the car because grandpa refused to give up driving — not only because of pride (although that certainly played into it), but because there were places he wanted and needed to go.
Once his car was safely hidden from him in our barn, grandpa agreed that buying a new car at his age — about 86 at the time — was impractical. That was true, but it wasn’t easy. For the next three years — rain or snow — he walked four miles every day he couldn’t find a ride (most days) to see my grandma in a nursing home.
But he also needed to go the grocery, the pharmacy and doctor’s appointments. There was no bus service. No taxi service. No concierge. That burden fell to family, like it does for many today.
Many seniors who can no longer drive can no longer walk either — at least long distances.
If we are going to strengthen the testing for driver’s licenses — and I think we should for all drivers, not just seniors — we need to come up with excellent sources of alternative transportation.
Should there be laws that carry extra penalties for hurting or stealing from senior citizens,? What else can we do to protect the old among us?
Doyle Chumney, 88, and his wife, Lillian, 79, were supposed to drive their son to a nearby airport early Wednesday.
When the couple failed to show up, their daughter went to her parents’ tidy Strasburg — population 2,608 — home and found it ransacked, their car missing.
After the Chumneys’ bodies were discovered Thursday in their burned car in another county, police said they are looking for more than one suspect, but they haven’t speculated on a motive for the crime or whether the Chumneys may have known their attackers.
What a nightmare — for the Chumneys and their family. My sympathies to them.
This crime follows scores of other reports about criminals preying on seniors.
Often its an unscrupulous family member, caregiver, lawyer or financial advisor who drains a senior’s life savings.
I remember the case of David Dadante, a crooked Cleveland broker who destroyed the financial lives of more than 100 investors in a $58 million Ponzi scheme. Some of the retirees impacted said they had to go back to work as Wal-Mart greeters or some other similar job.
Just last year, the duped investors got their money back through a federal civil lawsuit — but it took 8 years. I’m guessing not all the older investors lived long to benefit.
Meanwhile, Dadante — a cocaine user who snorted and gambled much of that money away — is more than half-way through his 13-year prison sentence for fraud. It seems a small price considering the huge destruction he caused in so many lives.
Then there are the violent attacks. Nursing home abuse, domestic violence, rapes, robberies and murders.
The still-unsolved Georgia slayings of Russell Dermond, 88, and his wife Shirley Dermond, 87, sticks in my mind.
In May, after the Dermonds failed to show up for a Kentucky Derby party, friends in their gated community went to check on them and found Russell decapitated in the garage. Shirley’s body wasn’t discovered for weeks. It had been weighted down somewhere in the 30-acre lake behind their million-dollar home.
If police ever solve the case, the killer(s) would likely face the stiffest penalties under existing law since murder is the most serious of criminal offenses.
But why were they targeted and what can we do to protect the most vulnerable among us?