Wandering and Elopement in Colorado Nursing Homes

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.

Contact a nursing home abuse lawyer at (303) 775-8128 to discuss your case.

What is Wandering and Elopement?

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.

How Prevalent is Wandering and Elopement?

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.

Who’s at Risk to Wander?

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).

Signs of Elopement

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:

  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Attempts to open doors
  • Expression of the desire to leave
  • Frequent discussion of going elsewhere
  • Confused talk about schedules

Patients with sleep disorders, aggressive tendencies, and elevated stress levels may also have a higher risk of elopement.

How Does Wandering Occur?

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.

What Are the Consequences of Wandering?

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.

Who’s Liable if a Wandering Patient is Injured?

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:

  • Nursing Home Staff – Employees of the nursing home should act to protect residents at all times. Failure to do so is negligence.
  • Nursing Home – The nursing home is ultimately responsible for employees’ actions. They can also be held accountable for understaffing, hiring inexperienced staff, and other improper protocols.
  • Management Company – Many aspects of nursing homes are controlled by a management company, including hiring and training. If the management company does not correctly handle these aspects, they can be negligent.
  • Nursing Home Corporate Entities – Some nursing homes are part of larger national corporate entities. Those corporations must ensure the individual facilities have proper protocol. If they don’t, they can be negligent as well.

How is Wandering and Elopement Prevented?

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.

Regularly Scheduled Activities

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.

Alarms and Monitoring Systems

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.

Locked Doors

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.

Adequate Number of Highly Trained Staff

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.

What Compensation Can Victims Recover?

A nursing home resident who is injured due to wandering or elopement can recover monetary damages for the following:

  • Medical expenses
  • Caregiver expenses
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Mental and emotional distress
  • Physical impairment
  • Incidental expenses.

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:

  • Loss of financial support that the decedent would have provided to the surviving spouse, heirs, or designated beneficiary (if the decedent was a rehab patient who was going to return to work)
  • Funeral expenses

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.