Families put their loved ones in nursing homes so that they will be in a safe environment, have assistance with daily life, and receive monitoring as needed. Many individuals in nursing facilities have confusion or mental status changes necessitating close monitoring and supervision. With a lack of supervision from nursing home staff, these patients can wander and even elope (leave the facility), an unsafe situation, which often results in injury or death. This is a type of nursing home abuse.
Types of Wandering
Wandering is defined as, “when patients suffer from a loss of cognitive function and leave safe areas in the nursing home or community setting.” A majority of patients who wander in the nursing home setting are those with new dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The Alzheimer’s Association reports that a troubling 60% of dementia patients will wander. There are five different types of wandering that nursing home residents may experience:
- Environmentally cued wandering: residents respond to environmental stimuli.
- Recreational wandering: residents have a need or desire for more exercise.
- Agitated purposeful wandering: residents are agitated for a real or imagined reason, which then upsets their emotional state. During this type of wandering, individuals can be aggressive or are unwilling to cooperate or return to their safe areas.
- Fantasy/reminiscent wandering: residents are unaware of their real surroundings and are wandering based on imagining their past surroundings.
- Elopement: residents completely leave the nursing home or go outside. Elopement is the most dangerous type of wandering for residents because individuals can become injured or even die.
Residents wander for a variety of reasons. In many instances wandering occurs because individuals are in a new setting that is unfamiliar and they feel overwhelmed. Wandering can also happen under other circumstances, including:
- Changes in medication or routine
- Unmet physical needs (if they have to go to the bathroom or are hungry or thirsty)
- Residents aren’t getting enough interaction or they feel unrest
- There’s a desire to go home or find family
- They could feel trapped and are searching for what they consider is a safe place
- Individuals are unaware of their actual surroundings
Residents who are suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease need attentive supervision. For any individual in a nursing home, their wandering risk should be evaluated and a treatment plan should be in place.
Some nursing homes use physical restraints on residents because they claim it will help decrease the risk of wandering and keep those at risk for wandering safe. Physical restraints include:
- Arm or hand restraints
- Cushions or vests
- Unmovable lap trays
- Guard rails on beds
- Tightly tucked in sheets
- Any show or application of force
However, studies have proven that physical restraints are often ineffective and can even lead to further harm to the resident’s health, like broken bones, bedsores, functional decline, social isolation, and even death. The best method for preventing or responding to wandering patients is to have diligent supervision over each individual at risk and a well-crafted, individualized plan of care.
How to Prevent or Respond to Wandering
Law requires Ohio nursing homes to evaluate each resident upon admission to the establishment, including assessing their risk for wandering. Each patient is different and no two wandering cases are the same, so the facility must address the wandering risk on a case-by-case basis. Facilities are also required to obtain information from prior healthcare providers and incorporate that into a care plan to prevent such issues as wandering and elopement. The resident’s family should provide as much information to the providers at the facility about the resident’s mentation and risk of elopement. The more aware the nursing home is about potential wandering risks, the better able they will be to prevent these situations.
Record and report any incidents of wandering to the resident’s family or other authorities. If incidents of wandering occur, then you must alter your loved one’s environment or remove them from the nursing home to prevent possible injuries. Contact the experienced attorneys at Tittle & Perlmuter so they can help provide assistance to your case.
Call Tittle & Perlmuter Today for a Free Consultation
Nursing home negligence that resulted in an injury or death of a loved one who wandered is a serious matter. We are ready to hear your case and advise on the best course of action. For a free consultation, call (216) 308-1522 now – we’re ready to talk. You can also fill out our online contact form. We will respond back quickly. We can also arrange evening and weekend appointments, and we can come to you.