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What Nursing Homes Can Do To Prevent Residents From Wandering

April 13, 2017

Here’s a trend in health care that might surprise you: dementia rates in the U.S. are falling.

CCIG’s Scott Asbury

Researchers had been expecting the reverse, especially in light of an aging population and the fact that more people than ever suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure – two leading contributors to memory-related disorders.

Despite that, a study last fall found that the dementia rate in Americans 65 and older fell by 24 percent, to 8.8 percent in 2012 from 11.6 percent in 2000.

In real numbers, that means that 1.5 million people who do not have dementia now would have had it if the rate in 2000 had remained unchanged.

That’s the good news. The bad news?

While there are about 5.2 million Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. today, that number is expected to grow to between 14 million and 16 million by 2050.

The implications of that are huge for families, nursing home owners, plaintiff’s lawyers and, yes, insurers – all of whom play a role whenever something goes wrong in the care of an Alzheimer’s patient.

Sadly, despite their best efforts to find and retain employees, many nursing homes are stretched thin in terms of staffing. And, as any nursing home operator can attest, dementia patients can be labor-intensive.

Falls, of course, are a big problem in many nursing homes. For homes that provide memory care, “elopement” – or unnoticed and unsupervised wandering – comes in as a close second.

Research has shown that 30 percent of nursing home residents with dementia wander at least once. And those who wander have double the risk of fractures.

Worse still, only 60% of patients are found alive 72 or more hours after last being seen. Most deaths are attributed to hyperthermia, dehydration and drowning.

When patients elope, nursing home staff leave themselves and their employer open to the negligence lawsuits that invariably follow.

Strategies for Prevention

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, roughly half of all elopements taken place soon after a new patient arrives at a home. It’s a good practice, then, to place new residents in rooms away from exits and closer to community areas, providing them with less opportunity to elope.

Obviously, your staff needs to stay hyper-vigilant in those first days after admission, until they become familiar with the patient’s behavior patterns and, in turn, the resident becomes familiar with their new surroundings.

Many homes use bed and door alarms, video cameras and resident tracking devices to help prevent wandering and elopement.

The Alzheimer’s Association also suggests that long-term care homes:

  • Keep photographs of residents in a central, secure location and ensure that receptionists, security staff and others in a position to help can prevent successful exiting by recognizing these residents. Those same photos can help law enforcement personnel in case of successful exiting.
  • Have a “lost person” plan to account for each resident on a regular basis, such as during mealtimes, and when shifts change.
  • Organize routine practice searches, including training staff to understand that a person with dementia may not respond when their name is called.
  • Make exits less obvious to reduce visual cues so that a wandering patient does not realize exiting is possible.

Scott Asbury is an Insurance Advisor at CCIG. Reach him at or 720-212-2048.

We Can Help

Want to learn more about the protocols you should have in place to address elopement? CCIG’s risk management team has the expertise to help you develop the right solutions for your business. Don’t hesitate to either comment below or reach out to Scott directly.

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