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Why Allowing Residents to Wander May Constitute Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Nursing Home Abuse and NeglectNursing home neglect can range from food or water deprivation to administering medications incorrectly, to failing to respond to calls for assistance. It can also include allowing patients to wander. When an elder is living in a nursing home, the staff has a duty to provide care and safety. If they allow the resident to get hurt or injured by wandering around without supervision, that may constitute nursing home abuse and/or neglect. Keep reading to learn more about protecting your loved one’s safety and their rights.

Reasons for Wandering

Patients with dementia are the most likely to wander. In fact, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, nearly 6 in 10 dementia patients have at least one wandering incident. Patients wander because they are confused and looking for somewhere familiar, but they also wander in search of food and water, medication, or a bathroom. Sometimes, nursing home residents wander due to confusion brought on by medications.

Types of Wandering in Nursing Homes

Wandering can refer to any situation where a care facility allows a patient who needs supervision to roam the facility alone. Wandering may be classified in any of the following categories:

  • Agitated Purposeful Wandering — These patients tend to be upset, though the reason can be real or imagined. They may be aggressive or unwilling to cooperate. To prevent wandering, the nursing home needs to address the underlying cause of their agitation.
  • Recreational Wandering — Sometimes residents simply want to walk around because they need more activity. Recreational wandering tends to happen when the facility fails to provide ample exercise and fitness opportunities.
  • Elopement — Elopement occurs when staffing and security is so inadequate that patients can wander out of the facility on their own.
  • Environmental Cuing — Different environmental factors can trigger wandering behavior. Even something as simple as a long hallway can cause some to wander.
  • Fantasy and Reminiscence — When a patient is no longer aware of their actual surroundings, they sometimes wander through an imagined environment such as an old home where they used to live.

Risks of Wandering Incidents

When allowed to wander, patients may leave the building, which puts them in danger from being hit by vehicles, falling, or drowning. They may get lost and potentially become the victim of sexual or physical abuse. In the winter, wandering can lead to hypothermia, frostbite, and complications with cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Wandering inside the facility can increase the risk of falls and life-threatening accidents, or the patient may end up in the kitchen or other areas where there are dangers such as knives and stoves.

How to Prevent Wandering

Identifying at-risk residents is the first step to reducing wandering incidents. At-risk residents should be encouraged to sit with other residents at lunch, join social activities, and get regular exercise. Often, wandering incidents happen in the first few days when a patient is in a new facility, and during this time period, the staff needs to be especially vigilant.

Additional prevention measures include the following:

  • Train staff to identify patients who are at the highest risk for wandering
  • Have ample staff members
  • Secure doorways to prevent elopement
  • Place alarms on doors or use video surveillance so that staff know if patients try to leave
  • Consider using GPS technology to track patient locations
  • Implement systems that notice when patients are missing
  • Lock doors leading to unsafe areas, such as kitchens and roofs

When nursing homes don’t take reasonable precautions to protect their residents, the nursing home may be negligent and by extension, they may be liable for any injuries that occur.

Nursing Home Liability

When a nursing home lets a patient wander, that’s a serious indication that the facility is not taking precautionary measures to keep residents safe. People live in nursing homes because they need supervision, help with daily activities, and access to doctors and nurses.

Typically, they cannot take care of themselves, and wandering puts them in a situation where they are often alone and without any assistance. If injuries or even death occurs because they are allowed to wander, the nursing home is liable.

If your loved one has been hurt or if they have died due to a wandering incident, you may be entitled to compensation. A nursing home abuse attorney can talk with you about your case, help you assess your damages, and fight for justice.

At Mazow | McCullough, we helped the family of a victim of nursing home neglect win a $625,000 settlement, and we may be able to help you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.

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