Why Is Wandering a Problem in a Nursing Home?

According to the National Institutes of Health, wandering is a behavior that is associated with dementia, and it affects many residents of nursing homes. If a nursing home resident with dementia manages to leave the facility, which is known as elopement, it could lead to injury or death.

Nursing homes are responsible for preventing elders from wandering away. Understanding what causes someone to wander and methods to prevent it can help you understand what rights you may have to protect your older loved one.

What Is Wandering?

Nursing home residents often walk around the facility, some for the exercise and others to socialize. Dementia patients may wander to seek stimulation related to something in their past or interest they remember.

In many cases, nursing homes encourage movement as it promotes health physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, some residents may be a danger to themselves or others when they wander. They may enter other rooms and disrupt the belongings of another patient. They may also attempt to leave the facility, which can be extremely dangerous.

Elopement can lead to injuries from falls, hypothermia, interaction with automobiles, and more. Some of the reasons your loved one may try to elope from the facility include:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Association with an object or person – the sight of a hat and coat or a former co-worker
  • Boredom
  • Disorientation
  • Past patterns – going to work, meeting a school bus, etc.
  • Stress

Preventing Wandering

The first step in preventing dangerous wandering is to educate and prepare the nursing home’s staff. When a resident enters the facility, intake staff should assess their likelihood to engage in wandering and elopement practices. If they appear to be at risk, staff should be trained in methods to prevent them from being a danger to them or themselves.

Security is critical in a nursing home to prevent elopement. Many have installed locks that prevent a resident from exiting but allow others to enter. Video surveillance should be used at all entrances and exits, with someone monitoring the cameras at all times as a precaution.

Physical Activity

One of the best ways to prevent dangerous wandering and elopement is through activities that are designed to prevent restlessness and boredom. Group exercise programs designed with the resident’s disabilities in mind can help them stay active and make them less likely to wander.

All residents should be treated with respect regardless of their actions or attitudes. In most cases, a wandering resident has no control over their need to walk around. They also may not be able to control their agitation or anger when someone interferes.

How Dangerous Can Wandering Be?

If a nursing home resident has some cognitive ability, allowing them to walk around the nursing home and secured grounds may not be dangerous. However, as dementia progresses, cognitive ability diminishes. In addition, your loved one may not have dementia but an illness or injury that limits their cognitive abilities, which could cause them to wander as well.

If a resident wanders into a kitchen or storage room, there could be items there that may cause injury. They may pick up a knife thinking they are cooking dinner or remove some type of chemical to hide in their room that could be flammable. If the person misses a dose of medication while they are wandering, the results could be fatal.

How Dangerous Is Elopement

It is extremely dangerous for someone with the limited cognitive ability to leave the security of a nursing home. They could walk into a roadway and be struck by a vehicle or enter a heavily wooded area where it may be difficult to locate them. Extreme cold or hot weather is particularly dangerous to the elderly. Your loved one may be missing for some time without food or water. It is also not unusual for the elderly to be attacked while they are wandering in a strange area.

Nursing homes have a duty to prevent dangerous wandering and elopement. If your loved one was injured due to wandering or elopement, or if your loved one died of injuries due to this practice, you may have a claim against the nursing home.

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