Caring for an elderly person with Alzheimer’s disease can be a difficult task, particularly if the disease causes their behavior to become hostile or aggressive, leaving many families with no other option but to institutionalize their loved one or hire professional round-the-clock care.
There are some families, however, who, when faced with a difficult situation like this, resort to something much worse than handing the person’s care over to the experts. Instead, they abandon the family member or attempt to pass them off to someone else without any concern for their well-being.
Such has been the case with Jerry Ellingsen, an 80-year-old man with Alzheimer’s who was found wandering around the Denver airport with his small dog. When he was discovered by United Airlines employees and questioned by police, he was found to have no memory of who he was, where he was, or why he was there.
After further investigation, police found out who the man was and learned that he was traveling from Fort Myers, Florida. They attempted to contact his daughter, who was the one who put him on the plane in an attempt to get him out of her hair and back to his wife, but to no avail.
Ellingsen’s estranged wife was also called, but she refused to come and pick her husband up, stating that he’d shown aggressive behavior toward her.
“I have no use for him,” she said. “I mean, a man that wants to kill me? Come on. I don’t want to live with him.”
Jackie refused to give police her address and said that if Ellingsen showed up at her house, she would not let him in.
Recently, Ellingsen had been living with his brother, sister-in-law, and nephew in Florida for a few weeks because no one else would take him in after he left his wife’s home. They were okay with having him stay with them, but they claim he got angry one day for no apparent reason, packed his bags, and left.
Ellingsen’s brother and his family contacted Ellingsen’s daughter, Pamela Roth, about the matter, and she put him in a hotel in Fort Myers for a few weeks. But it wasn’t long before she gave up on caring for him as well and sent him on a one-way flight to Denver by himself, hoping that his wife would handle the situation from there.
But rather than call her mother and explain the situation, Roth, who had power of attorney for her father at the time, and who works for a company specializing in senior home care, simply sent a text saying, “My dad and Corky will arrive on a flight in Denver tomorrow afternoon.”
With nowhere to go and no one to take him in, Ellingsen ended up wandering around the Denver airport before being admitted to the University of Colorado Hospital, where he has been for six months. His wife would only agree to take the dog.
Ellingsen is not alone in this difficult situation. A whopping 113 people were found to have been abandoned in the Denver area when 9 News looked into the issue, and all were being held at hospitals, some for as long as 577 days, despite having no immediate medical needs. About 30 percent of them had dementia.
Hospitals are legally obligated to keep these people if they have no place to go, and the hospital generally eats most of the cost. Denver Health has an entire wing of stranded patients and estimates the cost of keeping them to be about $18 million per year, which only serves to drive up the cost of care for other patients and is an extra burden on taxpayers.
“If you need to drop my dad at a homeless shelter, it’s fine,” Roth texted. “I just want him to have a roof over his head. Please.”
The case was investigated as elder abuse but dismissed as “legally insufficient” to pursue. Ellingsen’s sister-in-law describes the issue as “a sad sad circus.”
Learn more about Ellingsen’s story and the tragic epidemic of abandoned people with dementia in the video below.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?