Wandering is a common occurrence at many nursing homes across Illinois, particularly involving residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. There exists both safe wandering and unsafe wandering. Unsafe wandering can be particularly dangerous for residents with cognitive impairments if they happen to wander so far that they actually elope, or leave the facility and enter unsafe territory. The danger arises because they often cannot remember who they are or where the live, and eventually become lost and disoriented. Preventing unsafe wandering and eloping is the best approach.
Constructively Redirecting Wandering Behavior
Wanderers often are consumed by whatever preoccupation it is they think they are doing. Despite being retired for quite a few years, a wanderer may believe that he or she needs to go to work, or maybe very concerned with “going home,” despite being at home already. It is also common for a wanderer to be unable to locate familiar places they visit multiple times a day, such as his or her room, the bathroom, or the dining area. Wanderers will frequently engage in a repetitive task for extended periods of time, but not actually accomplish very much, if anything (e.g., rearranging books, or planting and then digging up a single plant in the garden over and over again).
When nursing staff notices this behavior, or if the resident expresses his or her desire to go to work or check on someone, nursing staff can constructively acknowledge that desire, yet redirect the resident’s desire to wander. Consider the following illustration:
Jeffrey is a resident at the nursing home who has Alzheimer’s disease. Jeffrey’s best friend in the nursing home was a man named Ted who recently passed away, but Jeffrey cannot remember that this has happened. Often, Jeffrey will look around the room, notice that Ted is missing, and stop everything he is doing to go get Ted. Jeffrey always goes to Ted’s old room and when Jeffrey arrives at the room and finds a new resident in Ted’s bed, Jeffrey gets very upset.
A nurse noticed Jeffrey’s repeated behavior to look for Ted, and now whenever Jeffrey begins to look around the room for Ted, the nurse interrupts him, asks if Jeffrey has met the resident who lives in room 115, and suggests that the resident in that room would like to make his acquaintance. The nurse tells Jeffrey that the resident in 115 is immobilized, loves company, and enjoys meeting new people. The nurse knows that the immobilized resident in 115 in fact loves company, and also has Alzheimer’s disease. As a result, the two never remember meeting each other and Jeffrey goes to room 115 every time.
With a simple suggestion, the nurse is able to redirect Jeffrey’s wandering tendency (Jeffrey’s desire to find Ted) into a constructive distraction (meeting an immobilized resident who would enjoy his company). By suggesting a meeting with the resident in 115, the nurse puts Jeffrey on a safe wandering path and gives Jeffrey a purpose for the trip.
If you believe your loved one is at risk for unsafe wandering or elopement, or you have concerns that your loved one may elope due to inadequate supervision at the nursing home, please do not hesitate to contact The Rooth Law Firm at (800) 350-0646.