Can I be charged with neglect as caretaker of my uncle?

Q: I am caring for an elderly uncle who has paranoid dementia. I have no real social support network of friends or extended family. I am honoring his request and refuse to place him in a nursing home. He wanders and and has shown up at neighbors’ houses while I attempt to shop for groceries or pick up medicines. The police have been called about the situation particularly when he lands up at people’s houses. The police have told me that I could be arrested for neglect if they catch him wandering again? How can this be? I have not committed a crime. I’m doing the best I can on a VERY limited income. If I place him, I will go against his wishes and will become homeless. What can be done about honoring his requests and protecting my home, that treats all with respect. (Moon, PA)

A: Based on the information you provide, it seems like your uncle is at risk of hurting himself. Although it is admirable what you are doing, it may not be enough to keep him safe. He may need professional help such as nursing care or in home services. You have been warned by the police which causes me concern that if your uncle ends up injured or worse, you could be charged with several crimes. This is usually a last resort. Although well intended, you have assumed the role of caretaker. First, you need to get him to a doctor as soon as possible. He may need of medication and a doctor can assess him for competency. Next, you need to talk to an elder law attorney or a social services agency about potential services and you or an agency becoming his court appointed guardian. It may be against his wishes, but he is not thinking clearly given his mental health diagnosis and dementia.

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