When they have a loved one with cognitive impairment in a nursing home or other care facility, one of a family’s worst fears is that their senior will leave on their own and get lost, be struck by a car, become the victim of a crime or suffer some other harm. In the nursing home industry, that’s known as “elopement.”
The National Institute for Elopement Prevention defines it as “[w]hen a patient or resident who is cognitively, physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or chemically impaired; wanders away, walks away, runs away, escapes, or otherwise leaves a caregiving facility or environment unsupervised, unnoticed, and/or prior to their scheduled discharge.”
Elopement and wandering are most common when people have dementia
That’s more dangerous than wandering, which is when a person gets lost, or perhaps slips away from those supervising them, but remains within the grounds of a facility. Both are most likely to occur when a resident has a form of dementia like Alzheimer’s disease.
Fortunately, the days of physically and/or chemically restraining these patients are largely gone. That means nursing homes and other residential facilities have to implement other practices to prevent vulnerable people from eloping and protocols for dealing with missing residents.
Nursing homes can identify those most at risk
This begins by identifying those most likely to wander when they’re first admitted. Families can be of significant help by sharing a loved one’s history of wandering. However, people who never wandered in the past may be more likely to do so in a new and unfamiliar environment.
Further, dementia can take a turn for the worse quickly and at any time. That’s why nursing homes need strategies for preventing elopement and strict procedures for what to do if a resident goes missing.
What can families do?
If you’re looking at nursing homes for a loved one with even minimal cognitive impairment, find out what their elopement prevention strategies are, as well as their protocol for handling missing residents, including how quickly they notify the family and local authorities.
If a loved one eloped from a nursing home and suffered harm or died as a result, it’s crucial to get to the bottom of what happened and not to just take the management’s explanation at face value. If the nursing home or its staff was negligent in some way, you may have grounds for a legal claim.