A nursing home is an environment filled with professional staff that you trust to care for your older loved ones. When it comes to your loved ones, you expect a few things from a nursing home. You want to be included in the care plan, excellent treatment, and adequate staffing to ensure their safety. Sadly, these are not always requests that are fulfilled in a nursing home environment.
The most dangerous form of wandering is an elopement, which is when the resident leaves the facility. Upon leaving the facility, they must fend for themselves. They may not be cognitively aware enough to go into survival mode. The danger comes from the elements, cars, and even falls. When the staff does not realize that the resident has left the building, the longer they are outdoors, the more dangerous they are.
Cases have occurred across the country where patients have either died or been in danger due to negligence on the part of the nursing facility’s staff. Longview Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Longview, Texas, received fines after three residents were found walking outside of locked doors in the middle of the street. The reports indicated that two of the residents suffered from severe cognitive decline, and the third had cognitive deterioration. Luckily, none of the residents were hurt due to the negligence.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about a Simla, Colorado nursing home patient found by a passerby when her wheelchair overturned into a ditch. She succumbed to her injuries at a Colorado Springs hospital shortly after the incident. Another resident of a Wisconsin nursing home was found outside of the nursing home during cold weather. Authorities determined that the lack of supervision led the wandering woman to her death, caused by hypothermia. Both of these cases have had civil suits brought against the facilities.
What Causes Wandering and Elopement?
Most wandering and elopement cases in the nursing home environment are from residents who suffer from cognitive decline. For example, those who have dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease are at a higher risk for wandering than other residents in the same facility. Why do these patients with mental decline tend to wander?
- They can become easily disoriented
- Searching for a loved one
- Memory deficits
- Searching to fulfill a need that has been unmet (hunger, thirst, etc.)
- Searching for security
In the case of the three residents from Longview Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center with dementia, the three women followed a group of visitors out the front door without being detected. When questioned why they did this, two of the women said that “they were just going for a walk,” and the third woman said that they “were blowing off steam after being cooped up for so long.”
Individuals who were more active and social before their cognitive decline are more likely to become wanderers. Some medications may trigger wandering, especially sedatives, that can cause confusion. Staff should be aware of the patients that tend to wander or are prone to elopement from the facility.
How Can Wandering Be Prevented?
Although wandering cannot be stopped, there are ways to help lower the chances of wandering and reduce elopement from the facility.
- Keep a daily routine or structure
- Isolate the time of day in which the resident may be prone to wandering
- Provide reassurance if the resident becomes disoriented or feels lost
- Make sure that all of the resident’s needs are met
- Avoid highly trafficked areas that may be confusing
- Place locks out of the line of sight – reducing the temptation of wandering off
- Incorporate devices that signal when a door is opened or closed
- Constant supervision
- Keep personal belongings of staff members out of sight
There is one connection that all three of the facilities mentioned above had in common – a lack of education on the subject of residents wandering. A proper training program and open lines of communication between staff about what is observed during their shifts could be what keeps a resident alive.
Some signs can make themselves present before wandering becomes a major issue. If the staff is watching the residents with memory and cognitive problems, they may be able to execute a plan of action before it creates a dangerous situation.
The nine warning signs include:
- Returning after a walk or drive later than usual
- Becomes forgetful about how to get to once familiar places
- Talks about former obligations as if they still need to be fulfilled
- Tries to “go home,” even if they are home
- Presents signs of restlessness, begins to pace, or makes repetitive movements
- Has trouble finding rooms within their own space or home
- Asks about past friends or family members
- Goes through the actions of a task without completing the task
- Becomes extremely nervous or anxious in crowded areas
Not all of these symptoms will present at once, and none of them may present at all. These are just some signs that cognitive decline has worsened, and there may be a potential risk of wandering and even elopement.
How a Nursing Home Can Manage Wandering
To provide the level of care that is necessary for patients who are prone to wandering, it is up to the nursing home to implement the following:
- Identify those residents who are at risk for wandering
- Create individual care plans for each one to manage wandering
- Give them a safe space to physically move and wander around
- Provide proper sensory stimulation and activity
- Camouflage exits, locks, etc.
- Use bed alarms
- Provide safety locks for furnishings
- Keep walking areas well lit and uncluttered with a designated path laid out
Many other things can be done within a facility to help accommodate those who suffer from cognitive decline. Staff should be working with the family and the doctors to provide the highest level of care, despite the possibility that the resident will wander.
Plans should be accessible to anyone who is on staff at the nursing home and the family of the resident. The family should have access to the plans in place should their loved one wander from the nursing home. Plans often include where the resident would go, who they might talk to, and including the neighborhood. Keeping a recent photo is also recommended. The police should be called within 15 minutes of searching to file a missing person. It should be stated that the resident has dementia, Alzheimer’s, or a cognitive deficit. Some residents may become combative as a result, and law enforcement should be made aware of this.
What To Do If a Nursing Home Fails to Keep Your Loved One Safe
The last phone call you expect to receive from a nursing home is that your loved one has been injured or has passed away due to negligence on their part. Even though they would likely not admit fault in their injury or death, your next phone call should be to a lawyer specializing in these cases. Residents who suffer from cognitive decline have little situational awareness, more so if the decline is advanced. In some situations, they may believe they are not “themselves” but a past version of themselves. Unaware that they do not have the same capacity they did in their youth, they could end up in a dangerous situation that could cause injury up to and leading to death.
Proof Needed in a Valid Lawsuit
Once you have acquired legal counsel, it will fall upon you and your lawyer to provide the burden of proof for the court. To do this, you must provide proof that:
- The nursing home had a “duty of care” toward the resident (your loved one) and that they should have been aware of the risk of wandering
- The nursing home violated their duty by not ensuring your loved one was monitored or supervised properly
- Because of their violation, your loved one left the nursing home and was seriously injured or killed
- As a result of your loved one’s injuries or death, you and your family have suffered financial and psychological losses
You Need An Experienced Wandering and Senior Elopement Lawyer
When your loved one becomes injured or passes due to a nursing home facility and staff’s negligence, you need to hire a lawyer immediately. An experienced Wandering and Senior Elopement Lawyer will have the expertise needed to make the nursing home be held accountable for their negligence.
Personal injury lawyers who handle negligence claims for elderly victims and their families, like TorkLaw, know what is needed to provide the burden of proof to the courts. TorkLaw can help prove that the nursing home had a duty of care; they violated that duty, resulting in the injury or death of your loved one. The injury or death has been hard on you and your family, and we sympathize with you.
If your loved one is the victim of a negligent nursing home that allowed them to wander, call our law offices for your free case consultation at 888.845.9696 today.