GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - The case of a man in the Alzheimer's unit at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans who died due to complications after he was allegedly attacked by another patient in the unit has brought up concerns about the best way to care for and protect people who suffer from the disorder.
84-year-old Andrew Ball Jr.'s family said they had complained to staff at the veteran's home that he'd been assaulted before.
"He had gotten hit a couple of times and each time he did, I would call and say, 'This is what you can do to keep him from wandering so he's not hurt, for his safety," Ball's daughter Deborah Keyworth told 24 Hour News 8 last week.
Which brings rise to the inevitable question: Could the staff at the home have done more to protect Ball? The Department of Veterans' Affairs' investigation continues.
Meanwhile, advocates for Alzheimer's and dementia patients say the task of keeping them safe is at best a challenge.
"Their judgment, their ability to process information and make good decisions, becomes impaired and obviously it was impaired on both ends," said Joy Spahn of the Alzheimer's Association.
One suggested solution is to attempt to isolate patients, but Spahn said that's a move that requires careful consideration.
"How do you make that decision, would be my question," said Spahn.
Spahn said the effect of the disease make it hard to predict how a patient will react. The may be docile one minute and aggressive the next.
"People forget that sometimes dementia is fluid," said Spahn. "That you get used to dealing with one behavior -- one part of the disease. And the person's disease progresses and because of the way it impacts the brain, it goes into another phase."
Spahn said that makes the decision of where to place a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia all the more difficult.
Staff-to-patient ratio and staff training are a few important factors. Advocates suggest one staff member for every five to seven Alzheimer's or dementia patients. A Department of Veteran's Affairs spokesperson said the Home for Veterans has one staff member for every four to five patients.
But Spahn said keeping patients busy and focused is especially important.
"Because one of the challenges of someone with a cognitive impairment is they're not self-engaging. That's why folks wander," said Spahn.
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