Elderly patients who have conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other mental disorders that cause confusion and memory loss have the tendency to wander aimlessly. The act of wandering has been known to contribute to some cases of elderly persons walking aimlessly outside of the facility and disappearing without a trace. Generally, wandering results in patients putting themselves unknowingly in harm’s way or injuring themselves due to fatigue. Nursing home staff are responsible for knowing when a patient shows the tendency to wander and giving special care and attention to that patient in order to keep him or her safe.
Potential Hazards Related To Patients Who Wander
Elderly patients who wander may encounter any number of hazards if not under proper supervision. They may wander into areas that are dangerous— such as stair wells, construction zones, restricted areas that contain dangerous chemicals or outside of the facility and into traffic. Many patients who wander have no recollection of where they were when they began to wander and easily get lost and forget their way back to where they are supposed to be. Other hazards may present themselves in the form of people— either other residents with mental illnesses that become hostile or visitors with ill intent.
What Causes a Person to Wander?
Diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease affect patients’ memories and may cause them to forget where they are. Having forgotten where they are, anxiety ensues shortly after and causes the person to want to find a familiar place in order to try and figure out where he or she is at. This motivates the patient to wander until he or she can remember where he or she is and how to return home. However, most of the time, the patient’s memory never returns and he or she will wander until a fall occurs or the person wanders into a dangerous area and gets hurt.
How Can Nursing Homes Prevent Wandering?
It is often thought that restraining patients who have the tendency to wander will prevent their aimless wandering, but it can actually contribute to the need to wander instead, causing the patient to wander the moment that he or she is able to. The best course of action is not to prevent the actual wandering, but instead to monitor the patient closely and make sure that he or she is unable to find him or herself in areas such as stairwells, restricted areas or outside where he or she can disappear and never return. Supervision is the best treatment for wanderers and when it is known that a person has the tendency to do so, nursing home staff should create a plan that addresses the patient’s needs and condition.
Who is Responsible when a Wandering Person is hurt?
The care facility trusted with the care of the patient is obligated to ensure that the person is unable to wander aimlessly without supervision. Failure to keep patients from wandering off the premise or into dangerous area is a punishable offense that carries fines and other penalties with it. In the event that the patient is harmed due to wandering into an unsafe area, the nursing home is obligated to pay damages to the patient or patient’s family.
Holding Facilities Responsible For a Wandering Incident
It is always unfortunate when a loved one loses his or her cognitive functions and begins to wander both mentally and physically. In order to help our loved ones retain their dignity in their last years, it is important to make sure that nursing homes provide patients with mental illnesses with the care and attention that is required to keep them safe and healthy without exacerbating the situation and giving them more reason to wander.
In the event that a loved one wanders and is hurt or manages to leave the facility and disappear, the nursing home in charge of his or her care is responsible and should be held accountable. By holding care facilities accountable for wandering incidents, we can encourage nursing homes to continue to find better ways to address the needs of elderly patients with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and similar conditions.