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Elopement in Nursing Homes

Elopement in Nursing Homes

Elopement is a major life-threatening issue related to caring for an individual with cognitive loss, also known as elder wandering. Elopement can have serious consequences, especially with elderly individuals who are at a greater risk for falls and other accidents.

Nursing homes must make sure that they are properly staffed and able to handle elopement cases. It is also necessary for nursing home staff to be well-trained in how to protect residents from wandering, and how to handle these incidents if they do occur.

Table of Contents:

Elderly man wandering from California nursing home

What is Elopement and How Can It Be Nursing Home Abuse?

Elopement describes an act of wandering outside or throughout a facility, normally done by a person with a disease like dementia or Alzheimer’s. Elopement typically takes place when a facility fails to provide adequate care, which can lead to a resident wandering around and even leaving the facility. A facility may fail to provide adequate care because of improper training, not following policies and procedures, and understaffing.

In many of these cases, the facility was aware of the fact that the senior may have been more susceptible to eloping because of their history of neurological diseases. However, the facility neglected to take the proper precautions to prevent this from happening.

How Common Is Elderly Elopement?

Studies have shown that in the United States, approximately 35,000 patients wander from their homes each year. It is also estimated that anywhere from 13% to 24% of elderly adults experience instances of elopement or wandering.

According to Alzheimers.about.com, elopement or wandering happens in up to 60% of people with dementia. This is one of the many reasons that it is so important for nursing home and assisted living facilities to take the necessary precautions to make sure that their patients are secure and safe.

These facilities need to have procedures in place in order to prevent patients from leaving facilities too easily without any supervision. With proper staffing of security personnel, nursing home facilities can help prevent most instances of elopement neglect and may therefore prevent serious injuries or death.

How Does It Occur?

Residents of nursing homes who have a tendency to wander may have a mental impairment, which leads them to believe that they have something important to accomplish or somewhere they must go.

For example, a person with dementia may believe that they must leave to go feed their dog at home or leave to take care of a family member. Any memory from a patient’s past may trigger the feeling that they need to leave the nursing home immediately to tend to something important and urgent.

Wandering and elopement may also happen due to changes in a patient’s medication, their experience of an unwelcome change, or feeling overwhelmed with a new living arrangement. These instances can occur when an elderly person leaves to use the restroom on their own without any staff members around to help. They might get up to go to the restroom, but then forget where they are going due to mental impairment and end up going out the front door.

Elderly man pondering the dangers of elopement in assisted living facilities.

What Are the Dangers of Elopement in Assisted Living Facilities?

While instances of elopement that are quickly noticed and properly addressed may not have disastrous consequences, there may also be serious consequences for wandering patients that fall through the cracks. Nursing home residents who wander may fall and suffer serious injuries, such as broken bones, lacerations, sprains, and bruises.

These injuries can be particularly severe in elderly individuals. With elopement, there is also the risk that a person actually leaves the facility, resulting in their disappearance and any number of dangers, including getting hit by a car or a train or drowning in a nearby body of water.

Elopement is a serious concern that anyone who works in a nursing home, assisted living or long term care facility should be aware of. Preventing patients from wandering is an important aspect of patient care.

What is the Difference Between Wandering and Elopement?

It is considered wandering when an elderly nursing home resident who is cognitively impaired or otherwise not capable of protecting him or herself from harm moves about inside the facility without an awareness of personal safety needs, potentially putting themselves at risk for harm. Elopement is a similar concept to wandering; however, with elopement, the elderly nursing home resident actually leaves the facility, unnoticed, and unsupervised.

With both wandering and elopement, there are serious risks of harm that could befall elderly residents. Nursing home facilities need to take steps to avoid these incidents and have precautions in place.

Risks of Wandering in Nursing Homes

It is important to keep in mind that instances of elopement are not unique to patients with Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related issues. Patients who have elevated levels of stress, sleep disorders, anxiety, and aggressive tendencies may also have wandering episodes.

Of course, nursing home residents who have physical conditions that prevent their mobility tend to be less prone to elopement than other residents who are able to walk more easily. Residents who are able to walk with full mobility but have impaired mental function are typically the most at risk for elopement incidents. These residents should be closely monitored by the nursing home staff.

Additionally, if any elderly person has a history of previous elopement episodes, it is beneficial for family members to let the staff know about it so that they can be ready to help prevent future incidents of elopement from occurring. Providing information to the staff about prior incidents can reduce your elderly loved one’s risk in the future.

There are many tools available in psychiatric care which can be used to help predict which patients are more likely to wander. One of these tools is the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory (CMAI). The CMAI uses a rating scale that is based on 29 related behaviors. Tests like the CMAI can be used to help decrease episodes of elopement and wandering in nursing homes, which will also decrease potential injuries.

Elderly individuals with dementia or other cognitive impairments are also more prone to experiencing injuries as a result of their wandering. It is important for nursing home facilities to regularly check up on the residents’ elopement histories in order to assess the probability of other individuals wandering—even if they have not done it in the past.

Elderly man with nurse at nursing home in California

How Can Elopement in Nursing Homes Be Prevented?

Since elderly nursing home residents can suffer serious injuries due to elopement and wandering without supervision, it is important to find ways to prevent these instances from occurring in the first place. In addition to administering tests to find out what patients are at the highest risk for elopement, it is also necessary to have proper training practices.

Proper Training to Prevent Neglect

Staff members who work in nursing homes must receive proper training in order to be able to sufficiently deal with elopement and ensure security measures are in place. Staff members must also remain vigilant to make sure that nursing home residents do not leave the facilities without supervision and a proper exit procedure.

The best way to prevent elopement in nursing homes is to ensure the nursing home staff has the proper training and actively remains vigilant while working. It is crucial for the nursing home staff to have an understanding of the residents’ habits and day-to-day activities.

An Understanding of Nursing Home Residents’ Needs and Conditions

Nursing home staff should also be familiar with the residents’ individual mental and physical conditions. Since residents who suffer from mental conditions may have an increased likelihood of elopement, it is important that the staff is aware of these conditions and understands that these residents may need to be more closely watched. Instances of elopement often occur as a result of too little supervision on the part of the nursing home and its staff.

Alarm Systems and Procedures

Additionally, nursing home exits that are not generally used by the residents should either be equipped with an alarm system or securely locked. While it is important for nursing home staff to keep a close eye on the residents, it is also important for the staff to ensure that the alarms on any exists are working properly in the event someone is able to slip past their attention. The nursing home staff will also need to promptly respond to any alarms that go off, signaling that a resident has attempted to leave the building unsupervised.

Other ways to prevent elopement / wandering include tracking systems for residents and ensuring that windows have locks and any exits are monitored. Video surveillance can also be helpful as a monitoring tool.

Elopement in Nursing Homes Oceanside Stairs

Elopement and Nursing Home Neglect

If a nursing home fails to enforce the necessary security measures in place to avoid patients from wandering, the nursing home may be responsible for nursing home neglect.

Another example of negligence is if the nursing home staff does not act in a reasonably timely manner when an alarm signals a potential wandering patient. If you have concerns that a nursing home facility or any of its staff members have been negligent in any way regarding a patient’s care, it may be necessary to file a lawsuit to hold them responsible for their actions (or inaction) so that it doesn’t happen again to someone else in the future.

Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawsuits

There are certain rules and regulations that nursing home facilities must follow. If a nursing home or assisted living facility fails to sufficiently protect or care for its residents, serious injuries and even death may occur.

In these cases, the injured person (or a family member, on their behalf) can file a lawsuit against the nursing home facility. By filing a lawsuit, the injured person will make a claim for the damages that they suffered due to the nursing home’s negligence.

It is always a good idea to hire an experienced nursing home abuse and neglect attorney to handle your case, rather than pursuing it on your own. These matters can have complex legal issues that are often outside the scope of anyone who is not an attorney familiar with this area of law.

In most cases, your attorney will review your medical records and also request incident records from the nursing home facility. Your attorney may also consult with experts, such as doctors or nurses as their opinions may be beneficial to your case. If your case goes to trial, these experts may then testify on your behalf.

Compensation for injuries may include money for the pain and suffering that the injured person endured, as well as payment of all past and future medical bills that are related to injuries from the incident. Many nursing home abuse and neglect cases settle before going to trial, so filing a lawsuit does not necessarily mean that you will need to move forward with a trial in your case.

If a settlement offer is made in your nursing home abuse or neglect case, your attorney will discuss the offer with you and let you know if they think it is fair and reasonable. It will always be your decision whether or not to accept a settlement offer.

Should You Hire a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer?

If you or a loved one has experienced abuse or neglect, which caused elopement or wandering-related injuries, a speaking with an attorney with experience in the field of nursing home abuse can help. If the nursing home or assisted living facility was negligent in any way, they might be legally responsible for any injuries that occurred due to the elopement or wandering incident.

Many people are hesitant about taking legal action, as they simply do not know where or how to begin. You can learn more about your legal rights and how to move forward with a nursing home abuse lawsuit by contacting the attorneys at the Peck Law Group today.

Our attorneys have many years of experience successfully handling nursing home abuse and neglect cases. At the Peck Law Group, we know what it takes to fight for our clients’ rights. Speak with an attorney today for free and get answers to your questions or find out if you have a case for elopement in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or other long-term care.

About the Author

Attorney Steven Peck has been practicing law since 1981. A former successful business owner, Mr. Peck initially focused his legal career on business law. Within the first three years, after some colleagues and friend’s parents endured nursing home neglect and elder abuse, he continued his education to begin practicing elder law and nursing home abuse law.


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