Every year, thousands of vulnerable adults are lost and sometimes never found, suffering great harm and even death after wandering away from nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The Alzheimer’s Association reports 6 in 10 people with dementia – including Alzheimer’s disease – will wander. Often, they have forgotten their name and address. They are disoriented, even in places one would think would be familiar. Wandering for those with dementia is extremely dangerous – and preventable.

At The Ansara Law Firm, our Fort Lauderdale nursing home neglect attorneys know that while walkaways are extremely common among dementia patients, the foreseeability of it is precisely why nursing homes should have a plan to prevent it.

Why Do They Wander?

Wandering – also sometimes called “elopement” – is triggered by the desire to fulfill some need, according to research published in the journal Annals of Long-Term Care: Clinical Care and Aging. Although the nature of that need might vary, it often relates to some type of physical discomfort (i.e., the need to urinate or eat) or an emotional discomfort (i.e., the need for more or less stimulation).

There is also evidence to suggest new medications could result in an uptick in wandering incidents, as could a change in routine. Our Fort Lauderdale lawyers understand that patients who are new to a facility are especially prone to wandering because they are in an environment that is new, unfamiliar and unpredictable.

Elder care facilities have identified the main types of wandering as:

  • Environmentally-cued wandering. This occurs when a patient is responding to some environmental stimuli. It could be a particular chair or a hallway or even an individual person that triggers the wandering episode. Staff needs to watch these individuals very closely.

  • Recreational wandering. These are patients who wander to meet some physical need for more exercise or mental stimulation. Staffers can typically cure this easily by getting the resident involved in more activities, exercise or exploration.

  • Agitated, purposeful wandering. This kind of wandering can be dangerous because the individual has a distinct reason for wandering, and they may become emotionally upset about this reason. Whether this reason is real or not doesn’t matter because the individual’s emotional state is equally affected. Confrontations with these individuals can sometimes be met with aggression or a refusal to cooperate. In these cases, experts say nursing home staffers need to work to address the underlying issue, or else risk a recurrence of these episodes.

  • Reminiscent or Fantasy wandering. This occurs when a person is wandering through an imagined environment and the individual is not aware of his or her actual surroundings. He or she may be imagining the past and responding accordingly. Patients in this situation often do not understand when they are told their imagined surroundings are not real.

No matter what type of wandering, nursing home residents who wander are in the greatest peril when they actually get outside of the nursing facility. If the nursing home facility and staff does everything right, wandering need not be anything to be alarmed about. So long as the individual is adequately supervised and inside a safe area in the facility, walkaways can be handled on a case-by-case basis. It’s when the individual manages to escape the facility that it becomes extremely dangerous. Our Fort Lauderdale attorneys can help hold a facility accountable for exposing residents to these risks.

Preventing Walkaways/ Elopement

Nursing home staffers need to be prepared to address the issue of wandering dementia patients.

These measures could involve:

  • Risk assessment of patient wandering upon admission or at various times as disease progresses.
  • Locking all doors except those in patient’s safe area.
  • Installing cameras at all potential exits.
  • Outfit residents prone to wandering with bracelets that can set off alarms when the individual exits the building or some other designated area.
  • Regularly check for tampering. Have staffers propped open a door? Do all the locks work? Do all the alarms work? Have any staffers disabled certain alarms so they can step outside to smoke or for some other purpose?
  • Involve the local community. Make immediate neighbors aware of what wandering is, why it happens and what to do if they notice an elderly person nearby who seems lost.

A significant number of wandering incidents occur in the first 48 hours after admission, so keeping an especially close eye on new patients is critical as well. All incidents of wandering should be immediately reported to resident family members or guardian.

If your loved one was injured or died in an incident of dementia-related wandering away from a nursing home, our Fort Lauderdale lawyers can help you explore your legal options.

Call the injury attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm at (877) 277-3780 or locally in Broward at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties.

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