Family of elderly man attacked at nursing home demand changes to Alzheimer's care

The wife of an elderly Waterdown, Ont., man who was violently assaulted while sleeping in his nursing home bed last weekend says she "feels sickened by what he has to endure at the end of his life."

James Acker, 85, was asleep when he was assaulted by another St. Joseph's Villa resident

James Acker's family claims this wasn't the first time he's been assaulted in the last 10 months while living at St. Joseph's Villa. (Diane Acker)

The wife of an elderly Waterdown, Ont., man who was violently assaulted while sleeping in his nursing home bed last weekend says she "feels sickened by what he has to endure at the end of his life." 

Diane Acker remembers dancing with her husband, James Acker, two days before the 85-year-old abruptly awoke to being beaten by another male resident in his 80s at St. Joseph's Villa in Dundas, Ont. 

Diane Acker, right, says she visits her husband, James Acker, left, every day at St. Joseph's Villa. (Diane Acker)

"We were both in a happy place when this happened," she said. "Now it's like I'm sleeping but my mind never stops." 

The incident happened around 2 a.m. Saturday after a staff member watched the man wander into James' room and attack him, says Derrick Bernardo, president of St. Joseph's Villa. The staff member tried to stop the assault, but wasn't able to until police arrived.

"This one resident doesn't have a history of going into other resident's rooms, which is why it surprised staff," he said. "They were very shocked that he actually went into a resident's room and proceeded to injure him."

James, who has been living at the Governors Road long-term care facility for 10 months, suffered head trauma, black eyes, a fat lip, and a swollen, bloody face. 

He is currently being treated at Hamilton General Hospital for bleeding on his brain, but his family is unsure how long he will remain there.   

"He was loved by staff, by friends, by volunteers," his wife said. "We don't understand why this happened, and we may never know."

Both men have Alzheimer's, and according to a Hamilton police spokesperson, Const. Stephen Welton, no criminal charges have been laid. 

'Never seen an incident like this'

Bernardo has been working in long-term care for several years, and says he's "never seen an incident like this."

If this happened to a child at Sick Kids hospital, people wouldn't stand for it.- Tammy Carbino, daughter

"Our priority is to ensure the safety and security of our residents," Bernardo said.

Nursing home staff met with the Acker family Monday and are conducting an internal investigation of the assault.

The Ministry of Health and Long-term Care is also investigating the attack. CBC News contacted the Ministry of Health regarding their investigation, but did not receive a response Friday.

'This is his home'

Diane says she doesn't feel safe at the residence, a place she had only recently accepted as James' home. 

James Acker suffered head trauma, black eyes, a fat lip, and a swollen and bloody face. (Diane Acker)

The couple has been married 45 years.

"It wasn't easy to put a loved one in [long-term care]," she said, recalling poring over the list of places for months before settling on St. Joseph's Villa for James. 

But her experiences there have left her feeling "confused and sick."  

James even has a private room, a benefit that isn't cheap. She pays $2,600 per month, an expense which isn't covered by James' pension he received from his private bailiff company. 

"This is his home," she said. "Now I have to find a new safe haven for him."

Disappointed with Alzheimer's care, wife says

The 62-year-old told CBC News she's disappointed in the way St. Joseph's Villa handled her husband's attack because of how it occurred and the conflicting stories she has received about the events.

"They saw him walking down the hall, called out his name. They saw him going in, they followed him in and they couldn't restrain him. James was beaten while kind of they watched because they couldn't get him off, they couldn't do anything," she said. "I don't know if it's a lack of training, but they were frightful for their lives." 

Elderly people living with Alzheimer's are "the most vulnerable group in our society," says daughter, Tammy Carbino, right. (Tammy Carbino/Instagram)

Tammy Carbino says she's in shock that this happened to her father.

Elderly people living with Alzheimer's are "the most vulnerable group in our society," she said.

"If this happened to a child at Sick Kids hospital, people wouldn't stand for it," she said.  

Aggression is environmental, advocate says

But encounters like this aren't uncommon, says Wanda Morris, vice-president of advocacy at the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.  

It's not just for James. It's for all of them.- Diane Acker, wife

"So much of the aggression that happens is a result of the environment," she said.

"Many of us have been parents and we think about dealing with toddlers that get hungry, angry, lonely or tired — very much the same thing happens with residents.

"They have dementia, their coping skills are diminished, they can't deal with environments, that all too often we put them in situations where there's a lot of other noise, there's other residents that are agitated, they're in communal dining facilities, their personal space is invaded on, so it's really a recipe for what we've been seeing on heightened levels of aggression." 

'Safety for all'

Diane says she would like to see "safety for all."

"It's not just for James. It's for all of them," she stated. "They are not safe. They can go in and out of rooms because they're wanderers. They're protected from the outside, but honestly my gut is, they're not protected inside." 

Morris is also offering solutions on how to address the issue of aggression at long-term care facilities.

She says having smaller units with fewer residents, segregation for high-risk individuals and even having bells on the doors would help staff monitor residents better. ​

"We need better safety nets," Diane said.