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Wandering is a risk for nursing home residents with dementia

One of the biggest dangers to those with dementia is the possibility that they may become disoriented and wander off. If a nursing home has inadequate supervision, residents with dementia may actually leave the building -- putting themselves at grave risk of harm.

If you have a relative with dementia that's in a nursing home, it's important to find out if the facility does regular assessments to determine the risk of wandering. Some of the signs that a patient is likely to wander are fairly obvious:

-- Talking about going to work or running errands

-- Asking about the whereabouts of friends and family

-- Appears confused about his or her surroundings

-- Isn't able to recognize his or her room

-- Appears restless and paces or makes repetitive movements

-- Is found waiting near the facility's exists

-- Talk about "going home" or someplace he or she used to frequent

A nursing home that handles dementia patients should have procedures in place that will prevent wandering. Key-coded locks on the inside of the facility's outside doors and bed alarms are possible measures that can help reduce wandering. Increasing staff presence and encouraging the resident to remain in areas where he or she can be supervised can help reduce the risk.

Incident reports need to be taken when a patient is found waiting by an exit or trying to leave the facility, then used to reassess the patient's safety needs.

You should also find out what sort of plan the nursing home has in place in case of elopement. A quick response is necessary because there's a 25 percent chance the patient won't survive if not found within the first 25 hours. Patients that go missing for more than 72 hours are 40 percent likely to die. Deaths are attributed to hyperthermia, dehydration and drowning. Patients can also easily wander into traffic.

If your relative was allowed to wander away from a nursing home and he or she was injured as a result, it's important to question whether or not the nursing home failed in its responsibility to take adequate precautions or respond to the event quickly enough. Consider talking to an attorney about the possibility of a lawsuit to recover for your loved one's injuries.

Source: alz.org, "Wandering and Getting Lost," accessed March 17, 2017

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