With the arrival of winter and seasonal plummeting temperatures, snow and other inclement weather, people are making more of an active effort to remain indoors as much as possible. However, there is one group of individuals who may not be fazed by the coming chill when it comes to heading outdoors - seniors with Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's patients leaving their homes and wandering - known as elopement - is a constant concern for caregivers and the staff of senior living facilities. This is only compounded by the winter weather, which can serve a much greater health and safety risk to seniors who may find themselves outdoors in poor weather. Here are ways you can keep seniors in your facility safely indoors this season.
Assess potential risks
As with most building maintenance operations, the best place to start when addressing the issue of reducing elopement is with a comprehensive inspection of your facility. FMs and administrators, as well as staff, should know not only which residents and occupants present the greatest risks, but also which building entrances or other access points may be the most conducive to a wandering Alzheimer's patient. Identifying any risks early on will make it much easier to devise an effective prevention plan.
Update your access control strategy
We often think of access control as a measure for keeping people out of a facility, but it can also be equally effective at keeping people in. If your facility has a specific wing or area that houses Alzheimer's and dementia patients, it may be worth considering to control access to that part of the building through the use of electronic locks. If your locks are integrated into the rest of your facility's power system, it may even be able to log when doors were opened and by whom, using a CMMS. Door alarms and surveillance cameras can be useful for alerting staff that a resident has left the facility.
Prevention is proactive
Identifying which residents and areas of a facility pose greater elopement risks is one thing, but for that data to truly be useful, administrators should devise a proactive plan for reducing elopement risk as much as possible. For example, The Alzheimer’s Association recommends assessing and addressing the causes of a resident’s wandering. Depending on the cause, providing distractions, or making exits less obvious to reduce visual cues for exiting may help. By occupying these residents, not only are you reducing the risk of senior elopement, you're also helping improve their quality of life.