Long-Term Care

Managing wandering behavior

LTC Nursing Assistant Trainer, November 6, 2008

Residents who wander can cause chaos in a long-term care facility. Other residents become angry and complain. Worse, they may try to harm the wanderer. Nursing assistants become stressed trying to manage a full assignment and supervise the wanderer. Nurses fear for the wanderer’s safety. The administration has great concerns about liability. If the wanderer exits the facility and is injured, the facility will be liable. The resident’s family may sue the facility, as well as staff on duty. In addition to costly legal action, expect surveyors to write deficiencies.

After you have identified the type of wandering behavior the resident exhibits, use your knowledge of the type of wanderer, common sense, and trial and error to meet his or her needs. Wandering is a purposeful behavior, although reason may not be apparent to others. Involving family members in planning care may be helpful. They know their loved one better than anyone else. Ask them the following information:

  • If the resident wanders (or insists on leaving the facility), where does he or she “need” to go?
  • Find out the resident’s nicknames.
  • What is the resident’s former occupation, hobbies, habits, and patterns, such as bedtime, rising time, nocturnal confusion, and wandering?
  • In prior periods of wandering (if any), where did the resident say he or she was going?
  • What is/was the name of the resident’s spouse?


This is an excerpt from HCPro’s book, The Long-Term Care Nursing Desk Reference written by Barbara Acello, RN, MSN.

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