Elderly Couple Escapes Facility Thanks to Morse Code Skills

Husband and wife with dementia, Alzheimer's were found on street 2 blocks from assisted living unit
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 3, 2021 6:32 AM CDT
Updated May 8, 2021 6:25 PM CDT
Elderly Couple Escapes Facility Thanks to Morse Code Skills
Stock photo.   (Mattes, restored by ZooFari, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

On March 2, someone spotted an elderly man and woman wandering the streets of Lebanon, Tenn., and it was soon determined they'd somehow escaped the memory unit of their assisted living facility. Once the pair—a husband and wife who have dementia and Alzheimer's—were safely returned, curious staff at Elmcroft at Lebanon queried them on how they got out, as the exit has an electronic keypad with a code only staff members know. The answer from the "rebel retirees," as the Daily Beast calls them, was an unexpected one. According to a report from the Tennessee Board of Health seen by the Tennessean, the man said he'd "previously worked with Morse code in the military" and was able to listen carefully as employees entered the correct numbers into the keypad, memorize the corresponding sounds, and crack the code so he and his wife could go on their half-hour stroll.

Per the report, the pair, who've lived at the facility for nearly two years, are able to carry out their daily routines there mostly independently, though staff helps and checks up on them. However, the report also notes that, starting in February, workers were instructed to check in more frequently with the husband, as he'd started engaging in "wandering and exit-seeking behaviors," per WBIR. The facility says it has since changed the codes on all of its exits, per a statement, and it has assured state regulators it will be supervising residents there more carefully from now on, according to state records. As for the man, who just wanted some fresh air, those records show he'll receive "walking time outside the facility with a staff member present." Elmcroft of Lebanon isn't completely off the hook for the couple's transgression: State officials are making the facility pony up a $2,000 fine. (Read more Morse code stories.)

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