the shocking truth behind this tragic video

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The shocking truth is we don’t know the truth at all, even though we think we do.

Here’s the Marketplace “teaser” version of the video, in which I’ve embedded a time stamp:

In an investigative programme entitled “Crying out for care” (see the full segment at the end of the open letter here), CBC’s Marketplace characterizes the incident as an assault in which a person with dementia attacked and caused the death of a fellow resident in a long-term care facility (LTCF) in Ontario, Canada. They infer the “assault” was unprovoked and caused by dementia, and that a contributing factor is a reduction in the use of antipsychotics in Ontario nursing homes.

This is seriously irresponsible reporting on behalf of the CBC and Marketplace. It’s misinformed and misleading, and it contributes to the stigma surrounding Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Furthermore, it hinders rather than helps the process of solving the issue of violence in institutional care. I’ve written as much to Marketplace by email and through their website, and have received no response to date. So I published my email in an open letter here.

But let’s go back to the video teaser/trailer (V1) above. What really happens?

Although we see it for only a second, it appears the man in the dark shirt (DSM), approaches the man in the light shirt (LSM) from behind on LSM’s left side. LSM seems to be taller and bigger; he turns around counter clockwise. The next 16 seconds is difficult to watch. Although it’s hard to see, it may be that DSM shoves, pushes or hits LSM in the stomach area; LSM shoves back; DSM swings at him, LSM swings back and because he is taller and bigger, his blows are more “effective,” and DSM ends up on the floor.

Meanwhile, the text boxes on the left-hand side of the video say: “Warning: This video contains graphic content.” Prepare to be shocked! “Security footage shows a nursing home resident attacking another resident.” To be fair, it doesn’t specify who is “attacking” whom, but then “84-year-old Meyer Sadoway was assaulted and died four days later” runs alongside the video of LSM punching DSM in the head and DSM falling to the ground. No conclusion other than LSM is the “assailant” and DSM is the victim may be drawn from the combination of words and video.

But there are a number of issues that make what appears to be obvious, not so obvious at all.

First and foremost, we don’t know what happened in the months, weeks, days, and hours, before the incident occurred. Perhaps DSM and LSM have never gotten along and have a history of altercations; in which case, how and why do they find themselves alone together in the hallway?

Or maybe they have been best buddies up until this day, and something set them off. We don’t know.

In a CBC article that preceded the release of V1 (the teaser) and the full marketplace segment, we’re told that DSM’s sisters say that both DSM and LSM may have been aggressive with others. DSM’s sisters also say DSM found the unit he was on too noisy and he often became frustrated. “He lashed out aggressively toward other residents on several occasions in the months before he died,” they said according to the article.

Further, the article states that the sisters learned after the fact that “their brother’s assailant had become increasingly violent and attempted to fight other residents in the days before the attack.” We don’t know how they might have “learned” that, who said it, who witnessed it, when, where, or how.

Equally important, we don’t know what happened in the minutes and seconds before the dust up. Maybe LSM had been walking down the hall minding his own business, and DSM had been harassing him from behind until LSM finally turned around and the fight broke out. Or maybe they had had fisticuffs already and LSM walked away and DSM followed and then they fought again. Or some other scenario.

We also don’t know what, if anything, was said (or shouted or screamed). Perhaps DSM had been spitting insults at LSM as they walked down the hall. Maybe DSM came up behind LSM and said, “turn around you son of a bitch,” and when LSM turned around, DSM hurled obscenities at him and hit him in the stomach. We don’t know, because there’s no sound on the video. And because of the camera angle and the way the men are positioned, it’s hard to tell who was the provocateur. Who was it that pushed, shoved, or “lashed out” first? Was LSM truly the assailant? Or was it the other way around? Was LSM defending himself against DSM, and because LSM was bigger, DSM got the worst of it? One thing is sure, at the start of V1, LSM’s left side, and perhaps his back are turned toward DSM.

It’s clear (to me at least), based on what I see in V1, that this is a fight, not an unprovoked assault. What remains unclear is who started it. If I were a betting person, based on the fact that LSM appears to have been walking away from DSM before the action starts, and he turns around to face DSM, that it’s more likely that DSM is the instigator.

But I could be wrong. I can’t know for sure, because I am missing a whole lot of information with respect to what caused LSM and DSM to end up in a fight. If I had access to the footage starting five or 10 seconds earlier, I would have more information and could make a more educated guess. But perhaps even another 15 or 20 seconds would not be enough to make a call on what caused the altercation. There are simply too many variables. And if I can’t make a call, how can Marketplace?

This is not to make light of a tragic situation, or to lessen the seriousness of what happened. Two men who were supposed to be safe in care got in a fight. One of them died, likely as a result of the fight. Those are the facts. But the truth of what happened and why remains to be seen. One part of the truth is that most resident-on-resident incidents such as this one are not the result of dementia as was irresponsibly implied in this “investigative” piece.

The rest of the truth is out there. But it’s not on CBC’s Marketplace.

*Note: this is the first in a three-post series. Stay tuned.

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JM