Oct 26, 2021

How do you prevent residents living with dementia from going into other residents’ rooms?

Dementia resident going to resident's room

This common problem has been raised on HelloCare’s Aged Care Worker Support Group, with a member reaching out for advice. A resident in her care was leaving her room and going into other residents’ rooms – and doing just that.

“Wondering how those working in memory support stop people from wandering into other residents’ rooms and pretty much trashing the rooms and taking items like ornaments, clothes, anything they can carry,” she wrote.

“It drives me insane to see rooms that we’ve left tidy and neat, to walk past later and see everything messed up. We don’t always have time to go back and tidy them again.”

Did members have any advice to help her manage the situation, she asked?

“It’s the biggest question in the world,” says Colin McDonnell, Dementia and Wellbeing Consultant with Calvary Care.

When a resident leaves their room and enters another’s room, they are in the act of ‘purposeful walking,’ he told HelloCare.

Exploring their environment

Professor Lee-Fay Low, dementia care expert and leader of the University of Sydney’s Ageing and Health Research Group, told HelloCare, “People with dementia sometimes like exploring their environment. 

“They usually don’t realise they are going into someone else’s private space, and may miss cues like names on doors.”

The key to prevention is to help the resident find “meaningful activities” they enjoy, McDonnell said. 

That requires understanding the person, looking at the behaviour, and working out what’s behind the behaviour.

Residents have to have access to meaningful activities they can perform or environments that are appealing to them, such as a garden. Residents stuck in “confined, restricted areas” will become “bored” and will go out looking for something more appealing to do.

Music is also “brilliant” for entertainment and distraction, says McDonnell.

Professor Low agrees. 

“Providing residents with dementia with engaging and interesting things to do would stop them from exploring private rooms,” she said. 

Sometimes residents will get up in the night and try to enter another resident’s room. 

“As they’ve woken up, they might be hungry,” suggested McDonnell. 

“It’s probably best to give them a sandwich and say, ‘Would you like to go back to bed?’”

Medications are usually not successful in preventing residents from purposeful walking, unless there is an underlying psychotic issue, says McDonnell.

Using wayfinding

Wayfinding – visually signposting public spaces such as courtyards – and making them appealing may also entice residents to go to those spaces rather than other bedrooms. 

“There are nice examples of using decorations on and around doors to help resident’s find their own rooms,” suggested Professor Low.

Long corridors can cause problems for residents walking around aged care homes because when they reach the end of the corridor, there’s often nowhere to go other than private bedrooms.

Locks or not?

“I see no harm in locking doors,” the original poster of the question wrote.

It’s never OK to lock a resident who tends to walk around a lot in their rooms, says Professor Low.

However, some aged care homes have door sensors for which residents can wear a sensor on a bracelet or fob, which allows the door to unlock, preventing anyone else (other than staff) from entering the room.

Professor Low says residents should also have the right to lock their bedroom door if they wish.

“It’s their right to privacy and security, though staff should have a key and there should be agreement as to when they might use that key. For example, [staff might use the key] to attend to routine cleaning after letting the resident know, or in an emergency.” 

A resident who enters another’s room without their consent, or even against their wishes, is evidence of an unmet need. Understanding the person’s history, their story, their interests and preferences is the most important part of an aged care worker’s role. It underpins all else.

Aged care staff who do not get to know their residents and understand why they might be motivated to leave their rooms “are not doing their job,” says McDonnell.

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  1. When my Mum was alive she complained about a man coming into her room trying to get into bed with her. I did not believe it until one visit there he was loitering in the corridor outside. There was a lock on Mum’s door but she did not have the cognitive and manual handling ability to use it. Even if she could have locked the door it would have been hard to stop this man who clearly thought my Mum was his wife. There was not enough staff in this place and the standard of care was appalling.

  2. Hi. in the article there is a comment about sensor bracelet or fob which enables the resident to lock the door so others except staff can enter. I am really interested in more information about this system as we are seeing more and more residents wanting to lock there door. this type of system would give the resident the ability to lock the door and staff piece of mind they could access the room in an emergency. it would be great if you could run a feature article on the options available and the benefits of all residential aged care facilities offering this system. such an easy way to promote resident feeling safe without compromising care in an emergency.

    1. Hi Lorraine,
      I had the opportunity to visit an Aged Care facility in Drummyone Sydney a couple of years ago, this is where i saw they had incorporated into the design of the building the use of Smart technology. I believe they have sensors in each room to allow only the resident and staff entry.
      I have added the link to their website should you wish to pursue further.
      Kind regards,
      Michael Preston


  3. Hi,
    This has always been a problem for fellow residents and and when family become annoyed when items go missing or misplaced . Using Smart technology and bracelets which only allow the resident of that room and care staff entry could solve the issue. Distraction is another answer but it is impossible for 2 staff to be the eyes and ears all the time when caring for so many people at the same time.
    Kind regards,
    Michael Preston

  4. Totally disagree with the comment ” are not doing their job”. I currently have a past co worker / friend with dementia so I know them well. There is nothing any staff including myself can do that holds this person’s attention for more than 5 seconds. Hates noise, TV, going outside or any activities. All this person ever knew in there life was how to be a carer. If we try to engage them in helping us to push a linen trolley for example, they say “no I don’t want to do that” I am open to any suggestions however everything mentioned in this article and more has been tried and fails.

    1. Jayne I agree. My husband has late stage dementia and he constantly tries to “clean up” other rooms. No boundaries. There’s nothing I or staff haven’t tried. It seems compulsive and he was hit by fellow patient yesterday who was understandably angry. Hoping my husband will get a one on one but they are short staffed. I may have to take him home and leave my job. I love him so much.

  5. I find the same things that happen to my Husbands room. His draws and cupboards get raided. Many times they are in his bed and using his bathroom he gets annoyed so do I when I can’t get them out. When I ask the carers they say they can’t move them either I have to say then would you please get someone who can. I have asked for a key when I take him out so I can lock the door I look it when I bring him door is unlocked. So what point is that. This never happened at the first place he entered . Unfortunately it closed.


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