Can nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Chula Vista and Escondido do more to prevent wandering among dementia patients? According to a recent article in McKnight’s Senior Living, “wandering and elopement are among the oldest challenges senior living communities face.” While incidents of wandering often do not lead to any serious harm, in some cases, seniors who do not have proper supervision can sustain severe and even fatal injuries as a result of wandering from the facility. Typically, cases of wandering and elopement involve patients who are suffering from dementia.
Given that wandering often results from limited staffing that may rise to the level of nursing home neglect, certain innovators have begun to imagine ways in which technology might be able to help. As the article discusses, technological innovations, such as radio frequency and real-time location devices, as well as behavior-tracking tools, can allow facilities to track residents and to prevent them from wandering outside the facility.
Learning More About Statistics on Wandering and Elopement
Since many facilities do not keep statistics on patients who have wandered off and have returned safely, it is difficult to know precisely how big the problem of wandering and elopement is. In part, as well, the definition of wandering shifts, and facilities do not always keep up with statistics for each new definition. However, as the article underscores, “everyone believes one is too many.”
Although we cannot put a precise figure on the number of elderly adults who wander, the Alzheimer’s Association predicts that about 60% of seniors who have been diagnosed with a form of dementia will, at some point, wander. When those older adults do wander, they often do not have any kind of identification with them, and they often cannot remember their addresses or even their names. According to statistics from the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at the New York University Rory Meyers College of Nursing, “more than 34,000 Alzheimer’s patients wander out of their homes or care facilities each year.”
Marie Boltz, the director of practice at the Hartford Institute, said that studies on wandering vary, but it is possible that up to one-quarter of all dementia patients wander from their residences each year. That figure of around 25% may be low-balling the problem, however. Based on a 2012 study that appeared in the Annals of Long-Term Care, up to as many as 70% of nursing home and assisted-living facility residents with dementia will wander at least once.
Using Technology to Locate Wandering Patients
While we should focus primarily on preventing wandering and elopement in nursing homes, technology may be able to help facilities to locate seniors quickly and before any harm occurs. Many of these new technologies focus on behavior tracking. While some older technologies focus on real-time location devices (essentially a GPS attached to a resident), newer technologies are aimed at prevention. What are behavior-tracking technologies? They involve sensors in walls and floorboards that help to measure the behaviors and movements of residents. When typical behaviors shift—a sign that the senior may wander—staff members can help to prevent an incident.
The key to preventive technologies, according to elder advocates, is to develop models that do not make residents feel encumbered or uncomfortable. Wearable devices, such as real-time location trackers, “often carry a stigma,” the article explains. As such, any remedies that can assess behavior changes to prevent wandering.
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(image courtesy of Marc van der Wielen)