Glare hits wander monitors
Facilities risk harm to residents, costly lawsuits, lack of insurance coverage and bad publicity with insufficient wandering monitoring systems
The Charles Klaer story set off alarm bells in the ears of long-term care providers and anti-wandering device manufacturers around the country in January. The figurative alarms sounded, ironically, because an actual siren linked to his anti-wandering device didn't.
The 72-year-old Alzheimer's patient was struck by a car and killed after wandering about a mile and a half from his Florida "memory support" center.
An investigator for the Klaer family said he found a fully functional anti-wandering device in a drawer near Klaer's bedside – unused – after his death.
The story brings front and center the tangled world of dealing with wanderers.
With a crush of future Alzheimer's patients expected, long-term care providers and manufacturers are racing to find the best ways to keep residents safe, and facilities solvent.
There are no solid numbers on just how many dementia residents wander away from nursing homes or other facilities, but one Alzheimer's researcher estimated the number to be above 30,000 annually.
Numbers like those make the anti-wandering challenge all the more urgent.
Proper use, training critical
"To the extent people will comply with them and wear them, they work," said Greg Szpak, director of resident services at Clement Manor Retirement Community in Greenfield, WI. "But there's still a segment of people with dementia we can't work with, that might not want a wander monitor."
Szpak's advice for current day shoppers is to make sure a vendor can service his or her product at any time of day.
Service was a theme also mentioned by Lorna Miller, regional sales manager for Code Alert | RFT, Milwaukee. She said that most anti-wandering systems "pretty much work the same" technologically.
"A facility should look at and identify what type of support there is within the system. What happens at 2 a.m. Saturday morning when you need attention?" the 12-year market veteran said. "Occasionally things happen because it's electronic – so who can you call?"
She said her systems can range from $400 to $2,800 per door, depending on what's needed and preferred. Some doors will remain locked until a bypass code is punched in. Others are not as rigid -- but may identify not only that someone used the door, but who that someone was, and when.
"In the last 10 to 15 years, nothing much has changed technologically," said Guy Lerner, president of Milwaukee-based HomeFree Inc. "But what we're trying to do as a company is shift the monitoring from the doors and exits to monitoring the people, continuously."
Ideally, a system would identify patterns, such as whether a resident tends to attempt elopement at the same places or times, Lerner said: "Then, you can say, 'Why don't I create an activity for this person at that time?'"
Direct Supply, which sells multiple types of anti-wandering systems, has seen "tremendous growth" in the wireless sector, though the market is "still going to favor wired for a while" because existing systems are expensive to change, said Greg Dohmen, healthcare product manager for the Milwaukee-based company.
Insurers are very interested in whether anti-wandering protection is in place, and adequate. But underwriters do not endorse one product over another or ring up discounts when systems are installed, said Maria Moreno, the senior vice president who oversees nursing home programs for AON Huntington Block Insurance, Washington.
"They'll say, 'Great, you have this bell, but not this whistle and that could prove problematic. Our recommendation is you do this,'" Moreno explained. "Most insurance companies hate to say, 'If you have this, we'll give this type of credit' because you look at an account overall, what the full management oversight is at the facility."
Joe Kopetka, product manager for Senior Technologies in Lincoln, NE, agrees.
"I don't think the technology has changed, but I think the bells and whistles on it have and give people a false sense of security," Kopetka said.
"Any of these