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Spouse On Spouse Neglect: Are We Seeing More Of It?

By November 3, 2011No Comments


In Wilmington, Delaware, 80-year-old Shirley Wilson was convicted at a jury trial of abusing and neglecting her 82-year-old husband, a stroke victim, by taking him out of the nursing home where he needed to be and forcing him to live at the family business, a junkyard. He had bedsores, was found lying on a couch in a soiled diaper, and was malnourished and dehydrated. He had dementia and needed 24 hour a day care.

It’s not that the family lacked the financial means to care properly for him. They had the money. It’s that Mrs. Wilson, who must have had some mental health issues herself, thought her husband should be working. It is frightening that it got as far as it did. Is this kind of scenario getting more common?

Here at, we’re not sure how common it is across the country, but we do know that we have certainly seen situations in which an impaired caregiver of any age has no business being responsible for an elder. Part of the difficulty in these situations is that the authorities may be reluctant to break up a couple and force one of them to stay in a nursing home when there is an “apparently” able person willing to care for the elder at home. We don’t believe that the nursing home did its job in allowing Shirley Wilson to take Don Wilson out of the nursing home, as it was inherently unsafe to leave him in her care. Given her public comments, it is clear that she did not understand that he had dementia, or didn’t believe it.

What is the duty of the nursing home to see that a resident is being safely ©where skilled care is given must assure that the discharge of a patient is safe before allowing it. Their response to a wife taking a spouse out of a facility “against medical advice” is to contact the police, elder protective services or other appropriate agency to prevent the horrific neglect and abuse Mr. Wilson suffered at the hands of his wife. Even if the law of a particular state does not mandate checking on the situation into which an elder is being discharged, it is the humane thing for any facility to do.

In the Wilson case, the nursing home might at least have inquired of Shirley Wilson what the arrangements were going to be for Don Wilson’s care at home. A discussion with her likely would have revealed her gross inability to do what was necessary to keep Mr. Wilson safe, as she testified at her trial that she “didn’t know about this mental capacity stuff”. At that point, a responsible administrator could have requested an evaluation, and possible guardianship (or conservatorship) for Mr. Wilson. The law could have protected him before, rather than after he was abused and neglected after leaving the nursing home.

Facility owners note: as our population ages, and older and older spouses are caring for their equally aging husbands and wives, the burden of checking on the capacity of the caregiver to care for their loved one increases. If we, as a society, are to avoid having more Don Wilsons sitting in filth and wasting away malnourished, we need to be conscious of where we are sending residents when they leave our nursing homes.

© 2009,, CAROLYN ROSENBLATT, R. N., B.S.N., Attorney

Last Updated ( Monday, 23 November 2009 16:17 )

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