Elderly Alzheimer’s Patient in Washington Dies of Hypothermia

Nursing Home BedLongview, WA- Family members of an 88-year old Alzheimer’s patient are trying to figure why their beloved mother and wife was allowed outside of her long-term care facility where she died of hypothermia last Friday night.

Norma Jeannette Sheldon was suffering from Alzheimer’s and her 89 year old husband Don Sheldon could no longer care for her so he family put her in facility that specializes in caring for dementia patients. Norma entered the Canterbury Gardens Alzheimer’s Care facility three years ago so staff was aware of her tendency to wander at night.

Dawn Johnson, Norma’s daughter told the Daily News that her mother had fallen in the courtyard twice and wondered why the doors to the courtyard were unlocked in the middle of the night. She said the doors to facility are typically locked to keep patients from wondering, but the door to the courtyard is unlocked on the Alzheimer’s ward.

There are numerous inconsistencies about exactly what happened that night. A staff member at the facility found Norma dead in the courtyard at approximately 1:15 a.m. But the facility did not call Don Sheldon until two hours later and told him his wife had died of a heart attack.

The coroner later told Johnson and Sheldon that Norma died of hypothermia; it was 28 degrees the night she was found.

It was also discovered that the nursing home did not do a bed check at midnight or concealed the results from Norma’s family. An 11 p.m. bed check showed that Norma was sleeping in her bed, but Johnson says that can’t be true since her mom typically fell asleep in a chair in the commons area.

“We don’t understand why the doors (to the courtyard) weren’t locked at night during this freezing weather,” said Dawn Johnson, according to the Daily News. “We entrusted them with her care. The whole reason she was there was that my dad is 89 years old and couldn’t take care of her anymore. We thought we were doing the right thing entrusting her to them.”

The facility is being investigated by the Department of Health and Social Services, but it is far too early in the investigation to determine what happened Friday night.

In a statement, Canterbury Gardens’ spokeswoman Diane Craft said, “We just want to express (that) we’re very sorry this tragedy occurred. Our hearts go out the family … and we’re working closely with the Department of Health and Social Services in our initial research into the incident.”

Don Sheldon said the nurses and staff at the facility treated Norma well and that he felt sorry for them, but doesn’t understand how they could allow Norma to wander outside.

This was a preventable tragedy and the facility should have taken extra steps to keep dementia patients from wondering outside.

Any facility which fails to keep their residents safe from harm can be held accountable for their negligence. A nursing home abuse attorney can help patients and their family members seek compensation for the harm they have suffered.