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Dementia-Related Wandering In Nursing Homes

Dementia-Related Wandering In Nursing Homes


If you have a loved one who suffers from dementia, you probably understand wandering is a normal symptom of the disease. Psychologically, the person could be experiencing some level of interaction with the past or a thought of action such as finding a necklace or escaping a noisy environment. In nursing homes, this can make caregivers’ job difficult.

Many dementia patients don’t need to be restricted from wandering. Often, it is a harmless activity that is more difficult to keep track of than a dangerous habit to pursue. The good news is, unlike the home environment, a nursing home is typically well-equipped to monitor and guide wanderers.

Nursing homes have experience with dementia patients. They usually have receptionists or other personnel actively monitoring the entrances and exits in person or via video surveillance. At home, a wandering person with dementia may accidentally drive or put himself in other potentially harmful situations. However, lapses or failures in these monitoring systems at nursing homes can put your loved one in a dangerous and confusing situation.

Wandering Patterns

There are many different reasons for wandering, and they all depend on an individual’s thought process and patterns at the time. Many wanderers follow a pattern that is easily understood and redirected. Others, are more erratic and seem to be associated with unmet needs or disorientation.

Wandering patterns can include:

  • Moving in circular or symmetrical patterns
  • Pacing
  • Following other individuals
  • Repetitive movements like opening and closing doors or entering and exiting repeatedly
  • Nighttime wandering – likely associated with memories, disorientation, or sleepwalking
  • Attempts to recreate the past

Caring for Wanderers

If you have a loved one who is a wanderer, you are the best chance a nursing home has of understanding the reason for wandering. Try to identify patterns in the behavior such as attempting to leave every day at 5:00 p.m. or identifying the object that a person seeks incessantly. Family members have a better understanding of what the person was like before the onset of illness and is, therefore, better equipped to find meaning in seemingly irrational behavior.

Work with nursing home personnel to identify the root of wandering behaviors. Sometimes the cause may be simple, like keeping sound levels low and more relaxed. Other times it may involve trying to redirect a behavior so ingrained that a person’s subconscious latches onto it, like going to the hairdresser once a week. Nursing homes have successfully used favorite activities like chess or card games during times of recurrent wandering to decrease or eliminate such instances.

Sometimes, you may be able to easily redirect wandering behavior by fulfilling a need such as going to the bathroom or finding a snack. Once a pattern has developed and been understood, a nursing home will be better able to handle the behavior. If a person is more likely to wander at certain times, a nursing home may post a staff member to monitor that individual during those times.

Wandering may occasionally be associated with medication side effects. If you cannot discern another reason behind a person’s wandering habits, ask a physician about the likelihood of a medication causing the behavior. If the medication is to blame, there are often multiple forms of treatment for the same symptoms that may decrease instances of wandering.

In cases where wandering is continually misunderstood, a monitor may be helpful. Many monitors contain medical information and an alert button that can be used by your loved one or anyone who find him wandering. Even if your loved one is in a nursing home, a simple medical alert necklace can keep him safe and serve as a backup to the nursing home’s care.

Unfortunately, misunderstood wandering patterns can lead to lost nursing home patients who are found several blocks away with no memory of ever leaving the nursing home. By understanding wandering patterns and causes, family members and caregivers can easily address the situation in a positive way. When these failures in monitoring occur, the nursing home can and should be held liable for anything that happens to your loved one. The nursing home owes a duty of care to provide a professional level of care and is charged with keeping tack of its patients. If your loved one was a victim of failure to monitor at a nursing home in California, call attorney Joel Bryant today.