Elopement: One of the biggest dangers for nursing home residents

Elopement by residents is one of the primary safety concerns of those who manage and work in nursing homes and other residential care facilities. That’s especially true for those caring for people with dementia and other cognitive issues. It’s certainly a concern for people who entrust their loved ones’ care to these facilities.

The National Institute for Elopement Prevention defines elopement as the following: “When a patient or resident who is cognitively, physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or chemically impaired…escapes, or otherwise leaves a caregiving facility or environment unsupervised, unnoticed, and/or prior to their scheduled discharge.”

The connection between wandering and elopement

Elopement differs from wandering, which is where a resident remains on the facility’s grounds but is unsupervised and potentially in unsafe areas or situations. While both can be dangerous, a person who elopes could be hit by a vehicle, become the victim of violence or other criminal activity or succumb to the elements. Since wandering is often the first step to elopement, nursing homes need to take instances of wandering very seriously.

How you can help protect your loved one from elopement

If your loved one has dementia or suffers from bouts of disorientation, you must question facilities you’re considering about their care plan for residents who are most likely to wander or elope. Find out what kind of safeguards they have, such as locks and/or alarms on doors, cameras and tracking devices.

When checking a loved one into a nursing home or other care facility, you should be asked a number of questions regarding any past instances of wandering -– even if it involved becoming disoriented within their own home. Be honest and thorough in the information you provide. (Talk to other family members or caregivers who may know of incidents you don’t.) This will help staff better protect your loved one through additional supervision and added precautions. 

Every facility should have written protocols in place for what to do if a resident cannot be found or is known to have left the facility on their own. These will typically involve things like an internal alert system, a systematic search and notification of local authorities (and the family).

If your loved one was injured after eloping from nursing care, you need to dig deeper into the situation. Taking legal action can help prevent similar tragedies in the future.