Wandering (also known as elopement) refers to a situation where a cognitively impaired person moves about a nursing home or long-term care facility without appreciating where they are going. In some cases of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, they may attempt to leave the facility.
A nursing home resident’s propensity to wander or elope should be identified in an initial care plan, and preventive measures should be implemented by the facility.Prevalence of Cognitively Disable Nursing Home Patients Wandering From Facilities
There are an estimated 5.3 million people in the U.S. with Alzheimer’s, only one of the diseases that can cause cognitive dysfunction and lead to wandering. In nursing homes, it is estimated that two-thirds of all the patients have some kind of dementia or cognitive impairment. Although many times it goes unreported, there are at least 34,000 Alzheimer patients each year wander outside unsupervised. These patients are ill equipped to care for themselves once they are outside and often do not have the ability to find their way back. This can lead to accidental injuries, up to and including death.Preventing Wandering Of Nursing Home Patients
To prevent wandering, nursing homes should:
- Train nursing home staff in how to identify patients who may be wandering from the facility.
- Have sufficient number of staff members to recognize when a patient is missing.
- Use bed, wheelchair or door alarms to alert staff when a patient is leaving the facility.
- Re-direct patients who are wandering.
- Be vigilant with new residents with dementia. 40% of elopements away from nursing homes happened within 14 days of being admitted.
- Secure doorways to prevent elopement. Half of the residents in one study of elopements from nursing homes behind someone else going through an exterior door.
- Use technology to alert staff if a patient leaves the designated area. There are alarms for doors, GPS patient tags and video surveillance that can be used.
The best way to prevent wandering is for facilities to be in-tune with their patients that have a propensity to wander. Creating exercise programs, having meaningful activities and allowing for wandering in a designated, safe area can all be preventive measures used to reduce incidents. Tracking wandering behavior, including triggers and patterns, can help caregivers see the signs before a resident tries to leave.Nursing Home Liability For Wandering-Related Injuries and Death
Nursing homes must acknowledge the risks associated with patient wandering and elopement and take steps to keep incidents from occurring in the first place. Most disabled patients who leave the safety of their nursing home are not prepared to cope with the dangers of the everyday world and commonly sustain a severe injury or death there after.The majority of deaths from elopement or wandering are from being struck by a motor vehicle, exposure, drowned or sexual or physical abuse.
There are a few scenarios when a nursing home will most likely be found negligent in a wandering or elopement case where a resident was injured.
- The person had a history of wandering yet no precautions were put in place to protect the resident.
- The facility had a policy or procedure to prevent wandering but did not follow it.
- When the resident left the facility, the staff did not taken proper action or delayed taking action, such as calling law enforcement or implementing a search.
- At the time of elopement, the facility had a lack of staffing or inadequate means to prevent residents from wandering.
When facilities fail to implement preventive measures to keep patients safe, they may be held responsible for the resulting patient injuries. Located in Chicago, Illinois, Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers represents families from across the state and throughout the Midwest in nursing home negligence litigation. We can help investigate and prosecute nursing home wandering cases and can provide you with peace of mind as to the circumstances surrounding the wandering episode.