Healthcare News & Insights

4 key steps: Caring for wander-risk patients

The last thing any facility wants is for an elderly patient with dementia to wander off and get hurt or lost. If that happens you could be faced with angry loved ones and lawsuits.

To avoid such instances, Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare published four accepted, clinical best practices to keep wander risk patients safe:

  1. Assess patients’ risk of wandering. Even though a patient may not be diagnosed as a wander-risk, it’s best to screen patients for memory problems, delirious behavior and disorientation. Facilities should also talk to members of the patient’s family to find out if any dementia-related diagnoses were made or if the patient has displayed any dementia related symptoms.
  2. Closely supervise at-risk patients. Patients at risk for wandering should be placed in rooms in high staff traffic areas where there is only one way in or out — past the nurse’s desk or a supervisor’s station. In addition, it’s a good idea for hospitals to put wander-risk patients in different colored gowns so they are easily identifiable.
  3. Minimize wandering triggers. Wandering can be brought about by environmental triggers. Foot traffic, activity and noise are known wandering triggers. Exit cues are another signal to patients to wander, such as elevators, staircases, doors, etc. Visual cues are another trigger such as suitcases, shoes, regular clothes, cars, etc. And finally, certain medications can cause wandering behaviors. To control the triggers, find out from family, friends or previous caregivers, if they know why the patient wanders: searching for a loved one, still believing they have a job to go to or a child to pick up, getting frightened in new environments, etc.
  4. Treat the root cause. Make sure these patients feel safe and secure in their rooms. Only make room changes when there’s no other option. They can cause panic and confusion in dementia patients. Also, soft lighting and soothing music can help them feel safe and secure. Harsh environmental stimuli (bright lights, loud music) can cause patients to wander off in search of a more soothing environment. Pain and sleeplessness are other causes of wandering in dementia patients.

To ensure your protocols work for keeping wander-risk patients safe, administrators need to regularly test them.

In addition, it’s a good idea to register patients at risk of wandering with the National Silver Alert Program. It’s free and allows caregivers to electronically store important information about the patient, such a recent photo, medical records, power of attorney, living will, etc.

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