Nursing home patients with mental conditions that cause confusion, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, are at risk of wandering and elopement. When a facility doesn’t properly monitor the location of residents, their negligence can have serious consequences.
Nursing Home Justice, led by attorney Mac Hester, understands your worries and concerns. With an in-depth review of the situation, we’ll determine what happened and work to hold those at fault accountable.
Nursing home elopement, also called “wandering,” refers to a resident leaving the facility without notice to staff members. It typically occurs when a patient is left unsupervised.
Elopement may be intentional or unintentional, but the ultimate result is that a confused resident leaves the protection of the medical facility. This is severe neglect on the part of nursing home staff or caregivers.
Wandering and elopement can occur at home and in a long-term care facility; however, because residents of these facilities are often unfamiliar with their surroundings, they are more likely to try to leave.
Elopement by people with cognitive decline is quite common. In fact, elopement statistics are astounding.
According to mmLearn.org, more than 34,000 Alzheimer’s patients wander annually. As many as 24% of patients in nursing homes have been reported to wander or elope.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 60% of dementia patients wander from their assisted living facility at least once.
There is no specific age at which a person is considered an elopement risk. Anyone with cognitive decline should receive an elopement assessment to determine their risk of wandering.
Even younger individuals in long-term care facilities may be at risk, especially if they are on certain medications or have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBIs).
Patients who have a history of wandering or have attempted elopement in the past have a much higher chance of repeating that behavior. Other indications that elopement may occur include:
Patients with sleep disorders, aggressive tendencies, and elevated stress levels may also have a higher risk of elopement.
Wandering often occurs when nursing home staff fail to properly watch for elopement activities or risk.
This might be during shift changes or when the facility is understaffed. Visitation hours and evening periods can also lead to wandering.
Some patients who elope attempt to return to locations they are familiar with. They may try to go home, work, or to a relative’s house. When a patient is discovered to be missing, locations near the facility should be quickly searched.
A wandering resident’s health and safety are at risk when they elope from a nursing home. They may be exposed to dangerous weather and traffic and other environmental risks. They may also become lost, injured, hurt, or even worse – dead.
In a 2011 National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) study, approximately 30% of dementia patients who eloped from a nursing home were not found alive.
Nursing homes have a duty to keep residents safe. They must take reasonable measures to provide a safe and healthy environment, which includes proper prevention of injury. If a wandering resident is injured, there are multiple parties who may be liable, including:
There are multiple methods that nursing homes can use to prevent wandering and elopement. Responsible facilities will utilize various methods and practice elopement drills routinely. When selecting a nursing home for your loved one, you should ask for details about their elopement reporting and procedures.
Residents in nursing homes should be kept busy and given a sense of purpose with scheduled activities. Daily exercise and socialization can help reduce wandering desires and behaviors.
While all doors should be internally locked in a nursing home facility, they should also be equipped with alarms. Alarms may be disabled with specific codes or shut off by wander guards who keep an eye on cameras or monitoring systems.
Nursing home doors should be locked from the inside and outside at all times. No one should be able to enter or exit the building without a special code or key. Only staff members or skilled wander guards should review who is exiting the building.
Perhaps the most critical prevention for wandering and elopement is having an appropriate staff to resident ratio. There should be enough staff members to watch high-risk residents. Those staff members should be trained in wandering and elopement prevention.
A nursing home resident who is injured due to wandering or elopement can recover monetary damages for the following:
If your loved one suffers a wrongful death during a nursing home elopement, then the surviving spouse, heirs, or designated beneficiary of the person who died can also recover for:
Non-economic damages for pain and suffering, grief, and loss of companionship
A Survival action may also be possible to recover costs that the victim incurred before death, such as medical expenses.