Alzheimer's patient's care in dispute after Inverness arrest

 
 
Published6/19/2008 12:07 AM

Northwestern University clinical social worker Darby Morhardt has worked with Alzheimer's patients for more than 20 years.

But for all her expertise, Morhardt, who works in the school's Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center, has never heard of an incident like the one police say occurred Saturday in Inverness between a 60-year-old Alzheimer's patient and her live-in caregiver.

 

Police say a neighbor told them they saw the caregiver spray down the unclothed woman with a garden hose in her backyard.

The caregiver, 49-year-old Stefania Lisowska, has been charged with aggravated battery to a senior and criminal abuse of the elderly.

Morhardt said that, if true, Lisowska's actions were "very humiliating and very abusive."

"There really are alternatives to what she (is accused of doing) in a very public display," Morhardt said.

Lisowska's attorney doesn't dispute his client hosed the woman down but said Lisowska did nothing wrong.

But authorities also said the woman in Lisowska's care tried to shield her face from the water before Lisowska struck her in the face and torso with the hose. Prosecutors also said the force of the water knocked the woman to the ground and that, after she stood up, Lisowska shoved her down again and took a swing at her with a broomstick.

Lisowska's bond was set at $200,000 bond Tuesday, and she remained in jail as of late Wednesday.

Barrington Deputy Police Chief Jerry Libit said the victim remained hospitalized late Wednesday. She was taken to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital after she suffered scrapes and large marks across her jaw line, prosecutors said.

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Lisowska's attorney, Ralph Meczyk, said she was never violent toward the woman and that she took the woman outside because she needed to be cleaned up and the bathroom was "a complete mess."

"She was a dedicated caregiver to this family for over three years," Meczyk said.

He also said the hose was spraying warm water, while authorities contend it was cold. Meczyk said the woman has been cleaned and hosed down in a similar manner before.

And Meczyk said the patient's husband supports the caregiver. The husband could not be reached for comment. Police said he was not present Saturday.

The details of the allegations -- the use of the garden hose, and in a spot where others could apparently see -- left some experts aghast, wondering about Lisowska's qualifications to work with an Alzheimer's patient.

"The question is whether this is the way to treat someone with Alzheimer's, and clearly it is not," said Melanie Chavin, vice president of program services for the Greater Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Financial strains can also affect the quality of care, as health insurance typically won't fully cover the cost of a caregiver. Many times loved ones rely on family or friends because they can't afford to pay properly trained but costlier caregivers.

"There is a reason to go to an agency," Chavin said.

It's unclear what Lisowska's credentials or professional background were.

Authorities say, however, she does have a criminal background. Police and Cook County prosecutors said she has two outstanding warrants, one on a probation violation and another in Lake County on retail theft. She also has four felony convictions, three for retail theft and one for burglary, prosecutors said, as well as misdemeanor convictions for retail theft and assault.

Aside from Lisowska's background, caring for a dementia patient can be extremely stressful for anyone, "and that should be processed," Morhardt said.

"People can lose their temper, they can lose sight of what is proper treatment -- the stress can be so great in taking care of someone with that illness," she said.

The community care program of the Illinois Department of Aging is one option families can consider. Another option is a residential facility, though 70 percent of the state's 210,000 Alzheimer's patients do live at home, Chavin said.

Kim Dell'Angela, associate dean of wellness and director of health and psychological services for Harper College in Palatine, doesn't want to be quick to judge.

"I'm reluctant (to say) this is a bad person who did a bad thing without a better understanding of the history," she said.

Dell'Angela spoke about the importance of hygiene, but warned it shouldn't come at the expense of a patient's humanity.

She also spoke about the importance of trust, especially with patients with memory loss.

Morhardt said it's important for caregivers to remember that even as Alzheimer's patients lose cognitive abilities, "there's still a person in there."

"The humanity of the patient needs to be honored," she said.

Lisowska's next scheduled court date is July 11.

• Daily Herald staff writers Eric Peterson and Barbara Vitello contributed to this report.

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