When it comes to caring for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s, one of the most significant threats to the patient remains– themselves. Yes, we spend a good amount of time here discussing how outside influences– poor care, mistreatment perpetuated by other residents, a medication mix-up ect. can impact the well-being of nursing home patients. However, when it comes to patients with Alzheimer’s, the most pending threat may indeed harm inflicted upon themselves.
Generally able-bodied, Alzheimer’s patients may have the physical strength to put themselves in some especially precarious situations such as: ingesting poison, handling dangerous items, and yes– wandering away from a facility.
Unlike other nursing home patients who may require a significant amount of medical attention, Alzheimer’s patients may actually require comparatively little medical attention, however they most definitely require supervision– the primary reason that they were likely placed into the nursing home in the first place.
Evaluating a patient for wandering propensities
Wandering is a criteria used by nursing home staff in evaluating new patients– no different than other categories more traditional medical categories used for review. Similar to a patient with a known medical issue, a nursing home must prepare a ‘plan of care’ after the patient has been admitted. For most patients with wandering patterns, staff will devise a treatment plan to include:
- Additional supervision
- Placement in a secure unit (doors / windows secured)
- Use of alarms on patient’s wrist or ankle to alert staff when they move about the facility
- Corrective behavior modification
Understanding the patient’s propensity to wander is indeed an important realization for both the family and the facility. For many patients with a history of wandering, there are certain patterns that be begin to develop that the facility can note to assist in caring for the individual. Certain activities or times of the day may set-off a patients wandering habits. Tracking these habits can indeed be helpful for preventing the patient from wandering from the security of the facility, but they are not enough to identify all episodes. Ultimately, nursing homes that house patients who may elope need to be ready for an incident at any time.
A breakdown in the system
Indeed while some Alzheimer’s patients may be relatively strong, they are not track stars or superstar athletes. Nor is necessarily an ‘intent’ on the person to carefully walkout of the facility undetected. Usually, when a patient at a nursing home or assisted living facility manages to elope, they do so through the easiest method possible– an open door or window.
I was again reminded of how a breakdown in a basic safeguards can cost a patient their life, when I read about a recent wandering episode in Texas. Apparently, the patient just walked out the front door of this nursing home (can and all) where he wound up getting disoriented and perishing.
Civil liability for wandering cases
As a nursing home attorney in Chicago who has worked on a number of wandering cases where patients have died due to exposure to the elements or gotten themselves in trouble when they mingle with passing cars, I really find these cases both inexcusable and overwhelmingly the fault of a facility that may have attempted to cut corners on staffing. Basic safeguards, like having a nightly bed check or keeping an attendant at a desk, may get skimped on by nursing homes as they attempt to staff their facilities with the lowest number of employees.
While the families in some of these cases stand to recover a significant amount for the loss of their loved one, I know that given an option– they would gladly put that money towards hiring additional staff.
Read more about nursing home wandering cases here.
Take a look at the news clip video involving the recent death of a nursing home patient by clicking this link.
For laws related to Illinois nursing homes, look here.