Wandering is not necessarily a bad thing for nursing home residents to engage in unless it is unsafe or exposes the resident to harm. There are many things that can be done to prevent unsafe wandering. Some techniques that are obvious include an adequate or high level of supervision, tracking devices, alert systems, and the like. However, physical restraints, such as wrist straps or tie-downs, are never a safe wandering prevention technique, nor is locking a person in a room with no way out, or medicating them with unnecessary medication as a form of chemical restraint. These are incredibly unsafe practices and can constitute illegal restraint of a person. There are other, safer techniques to consider using when a resident’s wandering is unsafe and needs to be curtailed.
Nighttime wandering is a serious problem, which occurs frequently in elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. These residents will get out of bed in the middle of the night in the dark, and wander around their room or the halls of the nursing facility. They can wake other residents, or possibly scare them. These nighttime strolls, much akin to sleepwalking in how potentially dangerous they can be, make the resident considerably more likely to suffer from an accidental fall.
Curbing Nighttime Unsafe Wandering
At nighttime, all wandering is unsafe. To curb nocturnal wandering, nursing staff employ a combination of techniques to reduce the drive or need for the resident to wander. For instance, wanderers often wander at night under the pretext that they need to use the restroom. To alleviate this need, nursing staff should reduce the number of fluids the resident receives in the hours preceding bedtime and should encourage the resident to use the restroom just before bed. Also, nightlights should be placed in the room of a nighttime wanderer to help reduce the chances of an accidental fall or stumble in the dark.
Some research shows that increased exercise during the day, and light therapy during the daylight hours, can promote better sleep in nursing home residents. Nursing home staff should encourage residents with nighttime wandering issues to engage in more exercise or physical activities or suggest participating in group walks during the day. In order to get more sunlight during the day, nursing staff can encourage residents to sit outside for a few hours, or in a sun-filled room of the facility, perhaps while reading a book.
Some residents may express concerns about exposing their skin to the sun or may have concerns about skin cancer. Staff should acknowledge these concerns, and offer solutions that address such concerns. For example, sun exposure does not have to be direct sunlight. Residents could sit in a shaded area outside, and/or could wear sunscreen, as well as protective clothing.
If you are worried that your loved one is at risk for wandering, and you are concerned that the nursing home staff is not doing enough to protect your loved one from unsafe wandering, please contact the Rooth Law Firm at 877-356-3007.
Jill Tilly and Peter Reed, Falls, Wandering and Physical Restraints: Interventions for Residents with Dementia in Assisted Living and Nursing Homes, Alzheimer’s Association Report 2006
Sunlight Treatment Could Help Nighttime Wandering In People with Alzheimer’s, Study Suggests, McKnight’s Long Term Care News & Assisted Living, July 27, 2012