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Florida Nursing Homes May Be Ill-Equipped for Wanderers

A family has filed a lawsuit following the death of an 85-year-old man with Alzheimer’s disease who died of a heart attack after he was found just outside his nursing home in temperatures slightly below freezing. He was transported to a nearby hospital in New York where he was declared dead.

Our West Palm Beach nursing home negligence lawyers know that while many patients may have complex medical conditions, an injury, illness or death caused by wandering is 100 percent preventable. It amounts to negligence and neglect and families should not ignore the fact that the nursing homes have a responsibility to prevent this kind of thing.

Some families might chalk it up to their loved one’s propensity to wander. But often, that is why families and loved ones came together to make the difficult choice to place the person in a full-time care facility in the first place. Staffers are fully aware of a patient’s condition (or should be) and measures should be in place to prevent such occurrences.

If a person ends up wandering away regardless of those policies, either the staff didn’t properly follow procedure or the procedures were inadequate. Either way, the nursing home is responsible.

As the U.S. continues to gray, the number of people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is going to continue to rise. We worry that nursing homes in Florida may be ill-equipped to handle this increase.

Studies have shown that between 11 and 50 percent of all long-term care patients will wander at some point during their care. For dementia patients, that figure is closer to 60 percent, with certain individuals prone to wandering again and again.

There have been some high-tech solutions to the issue of wandering patients. For example, a former rehab hospital director recently helped to invent a GPS shoe, which could be worn by Alzheimer’s patients so facilities could quickly locate patients who do slip through the doors.

Facilities should have a good plan for what to do if a patient does wander – sometimes called “elopement.” But really, patients shouldn’t even make it out the door in the first place. Doors should be locked and guarded and there should be enough staffers and controls in place to prevent patients from simply walking out. In addition to solid supervision, that might mean activity programming that is engaging to the residents, leaving them less likely to wander off. It could also mean multiple levels of environmental deterrents, such as alarms in the foyer or near the doorway.

Patients who have a strong propensity to wander should be identified early on, with all staffers involved in that individual’s care aware of the situation and can actively take steps throughout the course of care to prevent wandering.

A typical person who wanders is a male with an average age or 74 who is functionally impaired, may have sleep problems, is prescribed psychotropic medications and may have had a more active adult lifestyle.

Researchers suggest there could be biomedical reasons for wandering tendencies, and nursing home facilities should strive to help address those by allowing safe spaces for wandering, providing ample opportunity for exercise, and providing the individual with meaningful activities and a safe, comforting environment.

Freeman, Mallard, Sharp & Gonzalez — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
85-year-old’s death results in another lawsuit for Maplewood Manor, June 3, 2013, By Caitlin Morris, The Saratogian

More Blog Entries:
Wellington Nursing Home Negligence Lawyers Warn of Adult Day Care Dangers, May 5, 2013, West Palm Beach Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog

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