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How Nursing Home Neglect Can Result in Dangerous Patient Wandering

elder_manOne of the main reasons elderly people move into nursing homes is because they can no longer take care of themselves due to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other cognitive disabilities. These individuals can't take care of their basic daily needs, and without proper supervision, are also in danger of wandering away and becoming lost.

But even nursing home residents can become confused about their surroundings, and may suffer tragic consequences if not monitored by facility staff.

Types of Elderly Wandering

There are different types of nursing home resident wandering, and key triggers might make it more likely that a resident will engage in this behavior. For example, a person who is new to a facility may wander while trying to find a familiar or safe place. Changes in medication or routine can also result in an increase in wandering. It's important that staff members understand these types of wandering to prevent it from happening:

  • Agitated purposeful wandering. An agitated resident may wander and be upset while doing so. He can also be aggressive and uncooperative. If the cause of the agitation isn't addressed, this person might continue to wander.
  • Environmental cues. In some instances, an environmental cue, such as a hallway, will be a trigger for a resident to wander. For example, someone with dementia may associate this hallway as the path to a particular activity or situation. Facility personnel must watch these patients when they're near these areas to prevent the resident from wandering away.
  • Recreational wandering. Some residents want to walk for exercise and could wander away while doing so. Staff can prevent this type of wandering by ensuring the resident has regularly-scheduled exercise sessions.
  • Fantasy. If a patient is no longer aware of his surroundings, he may wander to an imagined place, such as a home he once lived in or a workplace.
  • Elopement. This is the most dangerous type of wandering and occurs when an elderly resident leaves the nursing home and wanders away. Patients can be seriously injured or killed if they're not stopped from leaving the nursing home. Common causes of injuries or death include vehicle accidents, exposure, sexual abuse, and physical abuse.

How Does Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Result in Patient Wandering?

The staff at care facilities has a duty to understand the dangers of patients wandering and take steps to prevent it from happening. Nursing homes may be found liable for abuse and neglect in these situations:

  • No initial assessment was made of the resident’s wandering risk when he moved into the nursing home or on a regular basis so steps could be taken to prevent this dangerous behavior.
  • The resident had a history of wandering, but nursing home staff failed to implement procedures to stop him from doing it.
  • The facility had procedures and policies for preventing wandering, but staff members failed to follow them.
  • The staff failed to take action or delayed taking action after discovering he wandered away, such as calling the police or searching for the resident.
  • The nursing home failed to have sufficient staff at the time of the wandering to prevent it from happening.


If you or a family member is the victim of nursing home and abuse or neglect, fill out our online form to schedule a free consultation to learn about your options for compensation for your injuries.