Chad Ries

Approximately 60% of older adults with dementia will wander. Wandering can occur at any time and can lead to serious injury or death, even inside a protected community or when doors are locked. Even with sundown syndrome reflecting the early stages of dementia, residents can unexpectedly and unpredictably wander, catching caregivers by surprise. Some senior living organizations are addressing this issue by implementing resident safety and security systems that incorporate real-time location system technology.

The RTLS technology within these resident safety and security systems incorporates small tags that are worn on the residents’ wrists. The tags wirelessly communicate with technology installed in the community to provide precise residents’ locations. The system can notify caregivers and display resident location information on all organization work stations in real time.

As senior living organization managers know, every second counts when searching for a wandering resident with cognitive impairment. Resident safety and security systems that use RTLS technology offer immediate community-wide visibility when and where it is needed most.

Resident wandering prevention poses challenges

Many senior living organizations confront the wandering challenge using security cameras. Cameras, however, can detract from residents’ sense of privacy and do not always help caregivers locate residents, especially when they are mobile. If residents slip from the camera’s view, then senior living staff can spend precious time searching.

In addition, for optimal safety, cameras require an attendant to watch the camera monitors around the clock, which may require additional staff and associated costs. Conversely, resident safety and security systems can offer visibility over an entire community, providing 24/7 resident protection.

Organizations also have implemented community-wide “lockdown” policies and procedures to prevent wandering residents from opening doors. These lockdown policies can contribute to a restrictive feeling for all residents and particularly affect those residents who do not require the enhanced monitoring of seniors with cognitive impairment.

Allowing some residents their independence while closely monitoring others can be a delicate balance. Consider the unfortunate incident from earlier this year in Rochester, MN, where an elderly woman wandered out of an assisted living community in the middle of the night and died of hypothermia. This organization, like numerous others around the country, allows residents to come and go as they wish and also had security cameras that captured the resident leaving the facility.  

Organizations can avoid similar situations through resident safety and security systems that send real-time alerts to staff members’ mobile devices or computer monitors when certain residents are approaching restricted areas. Unlike cameras, resident safety and security systems with RTLS can display a resident’s identity, so finding and returning the resident to safety is faster and more efficient.

Scalable, flexible technology

Several resident safety and security systems incorporate RTLS technology, but not all the platforms are designed to prevent resident wandering in senior living communities. A few factors to consider:

  • Location specificity. Look for systems that offer room-level location specificity. Numerous dangerous areas exist inside facilities, such as the kitchen, so being able to pinpoint a resident’s location to a specific room is a safety issue as much as a perimeter security benefit.
  • Scalable. Seek a scalable platform that can be expanded easily depending on the organization’s needs and as the resident population changes. The technology investment should enhance seniors’ livelihood through an understanding of and adaption to their activities of daily living.
  • Interoperable. Location data should be displayed in real time through the organization’s other mission-critical applications. The system also should be flexible enough to use multiple types of wireless technology for the tags and infrastructure to communicate location information.
  • Tamper resistant. If a tag stops communicating with the system or is damaged, then a platform that can generate an alert and log the event would reduce the risk of unauthorized tampering.

Protecting residents and improving quality of life

Documenting alerts and the frequency of wandering events is crucial to help improve resident safety. Some systems can analyze trends among residents, locations in the facility or times of day. New living or care environments with greater direct supervision can be arranged based on the analysis, or new staffing schedules can be implemented if it is determined that wandering occurs during particular times of the day.

Although each senior living organization has its unique array of pain points, finding a better way to protect residents is mandatory across the industry. A resident safety and security system using RLTS technology can help organizations fulfill that duty while also positively influencing residents’ quality of life, recognizing their right to privacy and enhancing their sense of security. This also leads to providing families with the peace of mind that their loved ones are secure and protected.

Communities that are embracing this benefit and leveraging RTLS technology stand out among others, ultimately helping to increase their capacity and residential growth.

Chad Ries is director of strategic partnerships at CenTrak.