Can we legally leave her home alone? (Long, but we need answers)

christmasbabyOctober 6, 2008

Hello everyone,

I usually hang out in the kitchens forum, but am hoping someone here can help.

My DH and I have been caring for my mom, who is 92, for 6 years now. She has progressively needed more care. Her mind, while forgetful and confused at times, is pretty much intact, although she sometimes doesn't make good decisions. Her pride also is a stumbling block. She has balance problems and strength or endurance issues. She cannot do anything on her feet without help. She used to be able to use her bedside commode by herself, but now someone (usually me) has to be there to make sure she doesn't fall. She could use it or walk with her walker by herself, but there is no guarantee she won't tip backwards or to the side, or have her knees give out under her. The risk of injury is too great to allow her to do it alone.

We have been told that if we were to leave her home alone and something happened to her, we would be held legally responsible. This would be true especially if a fire broke out and she would not be able to get out of the house safely. She has a Lifeline alert button to call, but in case of a fire, it could be too late.

I don't want to take chances with her life, but some people have told us that as long as she has a Lifeline and can call for help we are covered. Others have said that we would be held accountable. I have called Home Health Care people, the fire department, police, and Area Agency on Aging, as well as Adult Protective Services. No one would give a a definitive answer. We have opposing advice from legal contacts. Her doctor said she shouldn't be left home alone because I would feel terrible if something happened while we were gone.

So does anyone who is familiar with the law in Ohio have any answers? We would love to be able to go out to dinner or run some errands sometimes. My brother and his wife take care of her so we can go to church, but when they are unavailable, one of us must stay home because she refuses to go to our church. We take her with us when we have places to go, and do fun things with her when she wants to go, but as a couple we need time to reconnect alone sometimes.

Thanks for reading and we hope someone can help with this question.

Blessings, Terri

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try hiring a personal 'sitter' thru a home health agency - they probably have a four hour minimum - maybe someone at your church would be willing to 'sit' with her?


    Bookmark   October 6, 2008 at 8:12PM
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If you can afford to have someone sit with your mom look into Visiting Angels. I tried to get dad to ley someone come in and help out but he would here of it.

It might be time for mom to go into a nursing home if you can care for her 24-7 it's hard I'm going through it now but at least I know dad is going to over dose on his medicine or get in his car and hit someone or whatever else can happen to them once they can't care for themsleves.


    Bookmark   October 6, 2008 at 8:30PM
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Connie Kru

Hi Terri
Can't answer the legal part, but I agree with Carolyn.
I remember being there and in my head and heart I knew I needed someone, but NEXT WEEK I will look into it, she seemed so good this morning and then one day I came home and she was at the top of the stairs and another inch and she would have gone all the way down.
My mil of course did not want a stranger in, but the first time I stay home when the care giver came and I introduced her to my mil as my friend and she was fine with it then.
Do not delay and wish otherwise.
You will also start to need someone just for your sanity if you are going to keep her home all the way through.
My caregiver was an angel.
Good Luck

    Bookmark   October 6, 2008 at 8:37PM
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You might check with the State social services/attorney general if you are getting conflicting information from local attorneys. One reason you are getting conflicting ideas from the different services is if you did what they (fire dept etc) said, and something did happen, they feel they would be held liable and/or get sued. You (or anyone) would say--you told me----

    Bookmark   October 7, 2008 at 5:13PM
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I would not leave her alone for long, especially since you stated she needs assistance when standing! What if she fell and cracked her head open? Legally you may not be held accountable but morally you would!
Yes she could fall with someone there, but she would not have to lay there while you are out having dinner.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2008 at 6:24PM
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Thanks for all your thoughts. We definitely would only leave her for some quick errands or an hour or so, and if we would go she wouldn't get up from her chair. It would only be if there were an emergency that she would have to leave the house. It is the morally responsible part of the equation that has us most concerned. Yet when I talked to the Home Health Care Agency, they told me they go in and care for people who live alone all the time. I guess the difference is that she is in our home under our care and not responsible for herself as she would be if she were living at her home alone.

We have looked into a *sitter*, but usually the amount we would have to pay would make it impossible to do very often. I guess we will have to look harder for other options since we really don't want to risk her health and safety.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2008 at 6:46PM
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Hugs, I know the response "hire someone" is usually not possible. Where I live, they have "respite care" to help out caregivers. I dont know the smallest time period -- and you might have to do lunch. Does you county have a office for the aging?

    Bookmark   October 7, 2008 at 10:21PM
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In home care is not cheap, neither is respite care which is more for leaving a loved one for overnight trips or longer. I put my dad in Adult Day Care once a week so I have a day to me, it is not that expensive and he interacts with other seniors so it works out to be a win-win. I know you need time alone and would like to go out to dinner so for those times I would see if a neighbor would be willing to come over and sit with her for a few hours, or a church member, that way you can grab an evening here and there. Being a caregiver is a 24/7 job and one must be willing to make the sacrifice of not going out as much but rather treasuring the rare times someone will help out and you can relax.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2008 at 7:10AM
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Your original question was...Can we legally leave her home alone? To this I would say NO your the responsible party for this person just like you would be for a child or pet. It is up to you to make sure she is clean, fed, have her medicine and safe at all times. If it is to much for you to handle the only thing you can do is place her into a home. I know it's not easy and it's not something any of us want to do but there are times that either our physical abilities limit one from caring for a loved one or our mental abilities, it is very exhausting to care for someone with disabilities.
I know I am there going through it myself. Dad had congestive heart failure then had to have a pacemaker put in and knowing from the past dad would take 3 flowmax pills in one day cause he said he could not urinate. His problems became bigger than I alone could handle. Now he is hallucinating, I would have never thought he'd have this problem but it comes with the territory aging and illnesses. If I had left him home alone and something happened to him I could not live with myself.


    Bookmark   October 10, 2008 at 10:59AM
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My Mom is in a similar situation and we leave her alone. She has dementia and she knows it, she doesn't wander away, she can and does call us if she needs help. She is very strong, so doesn't need help walking or caring for herself. My husband's doctor told us we could be charged with neglect if we left her alone and she was not capable of caring for herself. She fell twice because of a last resort med the doctor prescribed which we stopped when we realized it was the cause of her falling. One time I visited and found her face black and blue and she was lethargic. I called my sister, who is Mom's care giver and she came right over. I told her she should have taken her to the hospital, that we could be charged with abuse or neglect. At the ER they asked when she fell, my sis replied with yesterday and one nurse said it looks like an older injury. Thank goodness they believed us.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2008 at 2:59PM
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You don't need someone from an agency. You can have a friend or neighbor watch her. Yes, you need some time for yourself. Don't think that she should be left alone in case of emergency, but you need to also live. I leave my DH but he is in a wheelchair and can get out if necessary, feed himself etc. He wears depends so that isn't an issue. If I will be gone all day I do have my neighbor come in and check on him a few times a day, plus I call to check.

    Bookmark   October 12, 2008 at 7:52PM
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I've yet to find a neighbor or friend who would take on that responsibility. We did tell the young man who mows her lawn to let us know if any thing looked wrong. Also the person who delivers meals on wheels will call if she doesn't answer the door. Mom's neighbors think we are terrible for letting her do yard work, which she enjoys. Eventually someone may call and have the situation investigated. My sis knows she should be in a care home, but she won't go against mom's wishes.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 7:44PM
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stargazzer, I sure hope none of your mom's neighbors makes any calls that will cause you grief. Shoot, I will still be out in the yard when I am old and gray......well, older and grayer! I think I would die quicker if I could no longer smell the smell of fresh turned soil, or feel it between my fingers, smell the crisp air on a clear autumn morning, gosh I could go on and on, but you get the idea. I admire the fact your mom still wants to get out there and do what she can do.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 9:21PM
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Legally? That's the problem. I am sure that it varies from location to location, but most places have "Elder Abuse" right there along with "Child Abuse." If an elderly person is hurt because of the treatment or neglect of the caregiver, then the caregiver is charged with Elder Abuse or neglect.

As any parent knows, a child can be seriously injured in a twinkling of an eye. It would take the same amount of time for your mother to fall. If you were there, you might not could have stopped it, but if you were NOT there, you certainly couldn't even have tried. The Courts would consider that as neglect.

    Bookmark   October 13, 2008 at 9:54PM
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Thanks for all your thoughts. I know most of you have far greater issues to deal with than we do.

There aren't any neighbors who would be available to help. The lady across the street was a great blessing to us this last winter/spring when we were preparing for our daughter's wedding, but she has health concerns of her own now so is not able to help. My brother and his wife have mom over for dinner on Wednesday evening and take her to church on Sunday morning so we can go to our church at those times. My sister comes on Sunday evening to cover Sunday evening church, as she is able. We have had a few people from church help out from time to time, but it is a small church so there aren't a lot of options.

I agree that it is easy to be charged with elder abuse. Someone told me that if you just threaten to send them to a nursing home if they continue a negative behavior, it could be Elder Abuse. I don't know the accuracy of that, but believe me, I would never do anything to harm mom. That is why we have had her in our home for 6 years and took care of her for a couple of more years before that by running back and forth to her house 20 minutes away many times a week. We have not left her alone since this past January when she lost some mobility.

Just being able to run to the store, grab a few things, and be home in 20 minutes would be so much easier than getting her ready to go, coat on, in the car, in the wheelchair into the store, and then reverse the process, but at the same time, I don't want to risk something happening in the 20 minutes I would be gone. And...that is our job now, just as when I was a child and she cared for me.

I think what DH and I are going to do is try to find special time at home to pretend we are out to dinner or just make the most of encouraging each other even more. We also want to invite friends over here for visits more often. I just know once winter hits it will be harder to take her out and about here in NE Ohio.

I guess the fact she won't go to church with us when she could, is the difficult part. If she would go, then we could use my siblings for times other that church, but that is our priority. We also remind ourselves that this is just for a season of our lives and we need to do our best for her before God.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2008 at 12:36AM
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Would you be able to pay for a CNA to come in for a few hours once a month or so?

Google Faith in Action, they are a volunteer organization and may be able to help you.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2008 at 7:43PM
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dd50, Thanks for the link...We will look into it. Hope it helps others in similar situations. We will continue to check other resources in the area too.

agnespuffin and mikeandbarb, I did some more research on elder abuse and while their descriptions are somewhat vague, it does say this about abandonment **Elder abuse can also include deserting an elderly, dependent person with the intent to abandon them or leave them unattended at a place for such a time period as may be likely to endanger their health or welfare.** That was in Wikipedia. I wouldn't have considered it abandonment when Mom would say, *go out and have dinner, I'll be fine." But I suppose legally, that is what it would be if she couldn't get out of the house for sure. She used to tell us that last year before she lost some mobility.

Mom and I started going to the YMCA in the area that offers a class for the Physically Challenged. (They do the exercises seated for those who can't stand and the caregivers can participate too. Best of all it is free and the people are wonderful. At 92, Mom is the oldest person ever to be in the class, so they fuss over her.) We had stopped going a year ago because of preparing for our daughters wedding. So now we are back to class and just getting out of the house, seeing people, and getting some exercise is helping both of us. My DH is still working on finding an outlet from his stress. Most of all this challenging time has really helped us as a couple to trust God's timing for everything.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2008 at 8:06AM
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christmasbaby- You sound like a wonderful daughter! I know it is hard on you physically and emotionally to do the 24/7 care that you do. Please know that this is not forever- when your mom is gone, you will wish that you were still caring for her. I hope you have the 'balls', to insist that your sister give you a few more hours- she could come have dinner with your mom while you and hubby go out. You need a break, you are doing a 24/7 job. Even if your sister has an outside job, she still does not put the hours in that you do. Nicely insist that she give you a break!
I am an RN that has worked in ER many years. I have seen elderly patients come in so many times when they were left alone- the family would say 'we only left her/him alone for a little while- we didn't think anything would happen'. They are devastated- and feeling guilty. Don't leave your mom alone. You'll find a way And yes- we have many times had to call the police/social workers for patients that were left alone when they should not have been, resulting in an injury.

stargazzer- I don't mean to be rude- but I am shocked at the care you gave your mom! Yesp she has dementia- she may make good decisions today, but tomorrow do something that will endanger herself or accidentally kill herself. Her brain is no longer working well.
Remember when she fell, and your sister didn't want to take her to the hospital because she was afraid of being liable for abuse? When the nurse asked about the bruise, she was taking note of possible abuse- especially when your sister lied. We know how old a contusion (bruise), is by the color and 3rd spacing. Within 24 hours there are obvious changes. So when you guys lied, it put up a red flag. Somewhere on your mom's chart is a little note that tells the next medical person that sees her to be on the lookout for abuse. The possibility of abuse is something we look for- and note. You would not believe how common it is- both in children and adults. It has gotten worse over the years- it is now mandatory for us to document ANYTHING- even if it is 'just a little thing' I am not saying you abused her- you described what happened- but your actions were not too good. I am letting you know how things are looked at, in the Emergency Room, and in other parts of the hospital. Don't do what you did last time. Don't lie. Big brother is watching!

To each and every person who is in your shoes- it is a hard and tiring job. Unfortunately, we all have this to look forward to ourselves. Some people just age differently, and can care for themselves, others cannot.
All of us will be in the same position in a few years...we will want whomever is taking care of us to do a good, kind job.

Good luck. this is just another chapter in our lives.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 4:28AM
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Thanks for your kind words thoughts, and also for the view as an RN. We have not left her alone and don't plan to. We do want to give her the best care and love we can and have no regrets, especially in view of doing what's right with an eternal perspective. She had been telling us to go out, that she would be okay, but we certainly didn't want to take any risks. I will approach my brother and sister about more time for us. It is a bit more difficult because my sister usually works afternoons, so that cuts out dinner most days. We will have to get a better idea of her days off, but she only gets her schedule on Fridays, so it is hard to plan ahead.

In caring for her lovingly, I have to watch my attitudes and try not to be irritable when I am tired. You know those mother-daughter things that are left over from childhood. And then there is the fact that she sometimes says things that leads me to believe she thinks I still function at an 19 year old level even though I'm in my 50's. Does it drive all daughters (or sons) crazy when moms or dads) do that?

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 4:15PM
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There is a legal difference between having an elder in your house and leaving them alone and leaving them alone in their own home. That's why it is very important to think through carefully all the repercussions of having your elderly loved one move in with you or you moving in with them. Once you are living with them, whether in their home or your own home, you are responsible for their care & well being.

However, if the elderly person still lives alone in their own home or apartment, you have to be very careful about trying to force them to do anything against their will. They have legal rights. They can refuse care, having caregivers, Wheels on Meals, medications, etc. It is their right, and there are legal implications to trying to force them if they are resistant. (For example, you cannot simply compel your elderly parent to live in an assisted living facility if they chose to remain at home.) Even diagnosed dementia is not enough to take away their right to make decisions. That's why family member sometimes petition for guardianship.

You can be charged with elder abuse because of neglect, that's true. But you also can be accused of elder abuse by forcing your will on an elder. It's not easy to walk that tightrope.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 7:17PM
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Shambo, that is good to hear. My doctor told me that we can be charged with neglect when he heard how old she was and that she was living alone. My Sis and I just don't feel it's right to take away her freedom. She has dementia, but she never leaves her yard or gets in any kind of trouble. She wants to die at home and it's her right.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 7:23PM
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Stargazzer, the problem is that outside forces might interfere with your mom's wishes. An acquaintance of mine is fighting "city hall" so to speak because neighbors think her mother needs to be moved from her home into a nursing home. The family has gone to court in order to keep the mother where she wants to be, in her own home. Once social workers and government agencies get involved, who knows what could happen.

Another problem is that everyone seems to have their own personal interpretation of the law or the law could be very vague. A social worker says one thing; their supervisor says another; the doctor says something altogether different; the judge has his own ideas, while the local police department may have differing opinions.

To be on the safe side, it might not hurt to consult an elder care attorney. And there are online sites that provide tools to monitor your loved one at home so they're never really completely alone. (The acquaintance I referred to has cameras set up in her mom's home along with a special door alarm that makes automatic calls to let the family know when the mom has wandered out of the house.) Also there are lots of products available to make the home safer and more secure.

Here is a link that might be useful: Check out this site for interesting alerting & safety devices

    Bookmark   October 22, 2008 at 11:52PM
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I am aware of the neighbor problem. A couple of years ago I saw a daughter of Mom's neighbor replacing a shrub in her Mom's yard, she told me she was doing it because she doesn't want her mom to work so hard like my Mom does. My Mom's only interest is in her yard work and now that she can't physically do the work she just sits and sleeps.

thank you for the warning, I have told my sister as much as we want to honor Mom's wishes we could get in trouble. My sis knows she needs to be in a care home, but just can't do it. I think that is why she was trying to shift Mom's care to me after I put my husband in a care home. She knew I could do it.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 11:27AM
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What can I say--I feel you pain. My MIL has been with us for a little over a year now. I have recently quit my job of 9 years to stay home with her. She is 85 and her mobility is not good, confused on a daily basis, short term memory is bad and right now trying to keep her dressed seems to be the new thing with her. All in all she is a joy--pleasant and loveable but a real handfull sometimes. She stayed alone while my DH and I worked for nearly a year. I lived in fear that she would fall or get hurt while we were gone. We came home and found the house full of smoke and we knew we were really pushing our luck with this. She (for some reason) filled a skillet full of oil, placed it on the stove, turned it on and walked into the other room and forgot it. She didn't even see the smoke. She apparently fell asleep cause she said a loud noise woke her up--smoke alarms. And she still didn't notice the smoke. We came in just in the nick of time. I didn't go back to work. The first week I was home with her I was amazed at how good she was at "hiding" her confusion. Somedays she shines like a little star but others not so good and we are having a lot more not so good right now. I'm really suprised she didn't get hurt--we were so lucky.
I REALLY miss going to dinner and running to the store or just going somewhere. It seems like my life revolves around how she is today. I miss doing things with just my husband or daughter. We sort of do shifts--one of us stays with her so the other can get out for a while.
Like you we couldn't get any straight answers about the legalitys of leaving her home alone--and still can't . I guess we just have to go with our judgment with this. I keep telling myself how wonderful she's been to me through the years and how I"ll be in that shape one day. It's not easy.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2008 at 5:22PM
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falldowngobump...I love your screen name...

It sounds like we are living similar lives. I know what you mean about missing the simple things in life...the store, the dinners, just being able to run across the street to talk to a neighbor. It's nice you can do shifts with your daughter. We went through planning our daughter's wedding last winter/spring and it was so hard to not be able to run to Maryland for special things from here in Ohio. It is even harder now that they are married because we can't connect with them as much. We have seen them once since their wedding in April and may not see them till next summer. They want us to come from Christmas, but we have no one to care for mom. We just try to remember the eternal rewards instead of the worldly trials.

One day before mom came to live with us, my DH and I went to her house to check on her. We walked in and her face was black and blue, with a huge goose egg on her forehead, and she was laughing. We were shocked and concerned what happened to her. She laughed more and told us she had fallen forward over her walker and hit her head on the kitchen floor. We asked when it had happened and she said the night before. When we asked her why she didn't call to let us know, she said she wanted to surprise us! She thought it was funny. I guess she liked the shock value of the looks on our faces. We were thinking concussion, etc. That was when we knew that she couldn't stay alone much longer.

I've been keeping all of you on this caregivers forum in my thoughts...hope you are all okay...

    Bookmark   November 1, 2008 at 7:01PM
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Hello, everyone. You sweet people, I was just browsing the forum as I hadn't been here much lately. Wow, you people are so sweet and precious to take care of your families in this loving way. I admire you and what you are doing. I know it is very difficult, especially with no help. God bless all of you and keep you. I hope and pray you find some assistance, especially over the holidays.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2008 at 1:53AM
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Christmas baby, thanks so much for the kind words. Believe me I think we could all use a pat on the back. I never dreamed this would be as difficult as it is. It's so hard to see someone I love and counted on just get "lost". I miss her. All in all, we just take each day as it comes. It seems like when I'm in the house with her she is good but as soon as I walk out the door (to the mail box or feed the dog or even take the trash to the curb) she is up trying to turn the stove on. She thinks she has things under control and she can get along just fine on her own. That look of pain on her face just kills me when she realizes she she doesn't and can't manage alone. It's like a fresh hurt for her every day because she can't remember 15 minutes ago. I'm just trying to protect her from herself I guess. Thank God for this site!

    Bookmark   November 17, 2008 at 10:45AM
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