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LEAVING AILING ELDERLY ON DOORSTEP

John Kingery, 82, Alzheimer's sufferer, cannot speak his own name, but credit him with making a new phrase familiar - "granny dumping."

The gender may be off, but never mind. The national Alzheimer's Association says that the story of the wheelchair-bound Kingery, left near an Idaho dog track holding a teddy bear and a bag of diapers, has flipped stadium lights on the problem of abandoned old people.About 70,000 elderly people were simply off-loaded at hospital emergency rooms and elsewhere last year by family members, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.

The family members were usually adult sons and daughters unable or unwilling to care for their ill parents. This seems to be a 1990s version of leaving a baby on the doorstep.

Bouncing those who once bounced us on their knees seems repugnant, but a large portion of the "sandwich generation" - middle-aged Americans taking care of both children and stricken parents - are providing heroic examples of filial devotion.

Once, members of extended families could take turns looking after infirm relatives. Alas, Norman Rockwell is dead. Yet many people still hang tough. About one in five families cares for an aging parent; 14 percent of these care-givers left full-time employment in order to be with Mom or Dad.

But what of the John Kingerys? Incredibly, many states have no laws against granny dumping.

But statutes can't abolish stress on care-giving loved ones. States could also copy Oregon in seeking waivers allowing Medicaid funds to pay for adult care.

Moreover, 215 Alzheimer's Association chapters provide help and advice to care-givers in all 50 states. To find out about the chapter nearest you, call 1-800-272-3900.

Despite the sadness of his story, Kingery reminds us that living has its golden moments. After being hospitalized, he spoke excitedly to police about his life as a child and as a farmer - perhaps the sort of memories we would all like to cherish just before the screen goes dark.