Nearly 50 percent of all nursing home residents suffer from dementia or associated cognitive impairments, including Alzheimer’s disease. These residents need special consideration for the dangers that these conditions bring, and a nursing facility’s duty of care extends to the appropriate staffing and supervision necessary to prevent vulnerable patients from wandering — moving freely within the facility, without safety measures in place.
When nursing home residents wander, it can put them at risk of physical injury from environmental hazards, and increased confusion from unusual surroundings. 6 in 10 people with dementia will wander, and each year such wandering is responsible for 100,000 preventable injuries. The nursing home entrusted with an elder’s care has a responsibility to do everything in its power to make sure such injuries do not occur.
Who is at Risk of Wandering?
Anyone who has memory problems and is able to walk is at risk for wandering. Even at the early stages of dementia and other cognitive impairments, nursing home residents may become disoriented or confused, and at heightened risk of wandering.
Signs of wandering risk include:
- Talking about fulfilling former obligations, such as going to work
- Expressing a desire to “go home”
- Restlessness, pacing or making repetitive movements
- Difficulty locating familiar places like the bathroom, bedroom or dining room
- Asking the whereabouts of past friends and family
- Acting as if doing a hobby or chore, but nothing gets done
A responsible nursing facility should ensure that its residents are appropriately attended. Source: Pxhere.com, shared under Creative Commons Zero license
Preventative Measures Against Wandering
- A competent nursing facility will have a plan in place to prevent its most at-risk residents from wandering, and to mitigate dangers when it does occur. The following strategies, recommended by the Alzheimer’s Association, may be part of this plan:
Institute a schedule for residents. Having a routine can provide structure.
- Identify the most likely times of day for wandering. Planning activities for this time can help to reduce anxiety, agitation and restlessness.
- Pay attention to feelings of loss, abandonment or disorientation. When residents express a need to “go home” or “go to work,” it’s helpful if staff refrain from correcting them.
- Reassuring communication like saying — “We are staying here tonight. We are safe and I’ll be with you.” — can help to alleviate anxiety.
- Ensure all basic needs are met. Having enough staff to ensure a frequent monitoring schedule for bathroom trips and other needs is crucial to prevent wandering.
- Remove environmental hazards. Injuries from falling are one of the great risks of wandering — removal of tripping hazards is a necessary part of a successful anti-falling protocol.
- Keep doors and windows locked. One of the most effective ways to prevent wandering is to cut off unauthorized access to areas like hallways. Seeing an empty hallway may trigger a disoriented resident into wandering.
- Provide supervision. Staffing should be adequate to provide supervision for all those at risk of wandering.
If nursing home residents wander on their own, they may be risking injury. Source: Wikipedia
Wandering May Lead to Elopement
It’s a short way from wandering within an institution to leaving its grounds and “wandering off” or elopement. Elopement is the term for when a nursing home resident leaves the facility’s property, and it can be deadly. If a resident is not located within the first 24 hours of elopement, there is a 1 in 4 chance they will not survive.
There are other dangers to elopement as well, the consequences of which can be more severe than those of wandering within a facility. These dangers include:
- An increased risk of falling and other injuries
- Increased confusion
- Missing needed medications and treatments
- Being attacked, assaulted or robbed
- Developing hypothermia — often when residents elope it is at night, when it is coldest — there have even been cases of residents freezing to death
When to Consult with an Experienced Malpractice Attorney
Most cases of nursing home wandering are avoidable, and some may lead to serious injury. The best course of action if you feel that nursing home negligence has caused harm to a loved one is to consult with skilled attorneys like those at McEldrew Young Purtell as soon as possible. With 30 years of experience in medical malpractice, McEldrew Young Purtell is well suited to evaluate the situation and help determine if the injury suffered involved acts of negligence.