updated 11/12/2004 2:28:28 PM ET 2004-11-12T19:28:28

The British government is trying to track down a family that abandoned an 82-year-old man suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease in a London hospital waiting room.

The family, which is living in southern Spain, said it couldn’t care for the man. Police said they broke no law by leaving the man at a hospital where he had been previously treated.

Staff at the Romford Oldchurch Hospital in east London noticed the smartly dressed old man sitting alone and confused in a waiting room Oct. 25.

When nurses realized the man had no appointment, they gave him a checkup and then contacted social services and the police.

A letter was left with the man’s birth certificate at a hospital reception desk. “We cannot cope anymore, and we just want him to get good care,” said the letter, signed by his wife. “Please look after him,” she said, adding he needed “special care and attention.”

Wife says she's on verge of nervous breakdown
The wife — whose name was withheld by authorities, along with the patient’s — apologized and said she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Social workers said Friday that the man’s relatives, originally from East London, are living in a resort area of southern Spain. The Foreign Office said it was trying to reach the family.

In the United States, abandoning an elderly relative has been an offense in most states since several cases — dubbed “Granny Dumping” — shocked the country in the 1990’s.

But it is not illegal in Britain. “As long as relatives abandon the adult in a place where he can receive care, they don’t face any charge,” the Home Office said.

However, Mencap, a leading British charity, criticized the man’s abandonment as “a shocking example of how society is failing to care for the most vulnerable people.”

Six million people care for such patients at home in Britain, and “often experience feelings of isolation and hopelessness,” Mencap said.

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