My local paper (The Roanoke Times) ran an Associated Press article yesterday entitled, “Tracking Technology Applies to Patients.” The article discussed the development of radio wave beacons and GPS systems to help families and nursing homes know the whereabouts of patients suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. This is great news for a terrible problem.
The problem is that as many as 60% of Alzheimer’s patients will become “wanders.” These patients are physically strong and capable enough to walk long distances but are often unable to return to their starting point. In the nursing home industry this is called “elopement,” meaning that the resident has left the area of his/her supervision. It could mean the resident has left the building and is now wandering the nursing home grounds, parking lot, or left the area completely and his walking across a busy highway.
We have recently assisted two families whose family member suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and was classified a “wanderer.” In both cases, the nursing home promised the family that the staff would closely monitor the resident. Further, both nursing homes told the family that all exterior doors were equipped with alarms and that a bed alarm would be used for added protection.
Guess what? In both cases the resident eloped (unnoticed) from the facility. One was found on the grounds of the nursing home, having fallen, with a bloodied face and broken nose. Unfortunately, the second resident was found, unconscious and face down in the facility’s parking lot. The resident had fallen so forcefully that he ruptured a blood vessel in his brain, never recovered, and died 3 days later in a local hospital.
My Take: I am all for improved technology to provide increased safety for the elderly suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. But, the technology doesn’t do the trick if the nursing home staff either chooses not to use the technology and doesn’t know how to use it.