If you have a loved one with dementia or other serious cognitive issues living in a residential care facility, or you’re looking for a care facility for them, you may already be familiar with the term “elopement.”
The National Institute for Elopement Prevention defines it as what happens when a person who is cognitively or otherwise impaired “leaves a caregiving facility or environment unsupervised, unnoticed, and/or prior to their scheduled discharge.”
Elopement vs. wandering
Elopement is sometimes used interchangeably with “wandering.” However, they are two different things. Wandering is when a resident remains within the grounds of a facility but gets lost or cannot be found. It’s generally less “purpose-driven” than an elopement.
A confused or cognitively impaired resident who wanders into an unsupervised area of a care facility can certainly find themselves in a risky situation. They could fall, be assaulted, consume or touch something toxic or work themselves into a state of anxiety and fear. Further, instances of wandering can eventually lead to elopement.
When a resident goes outside of the property unsupervised, they can be struck by a car or become the victim of a violent crime. They can drown, even in shallow water like a pond or succumb to the elements if they’re out all night.
All facilities should have safeguards and protocols
Whether you’re looking for a care facility or already have a loved one in one, it’s important to find out what they do to prevent wandering and elopement and what their protocol is when a resident goes missing.
Every care facility should be prepared for residents to wander or elope, even if they don’t specialize in treating people with dementia. Just moving to a new place can cause confusion for an elderly person. So can certain medications. Residents are often most likely to elope during their first days in a facility, but it can happen at any time. There’s always a first time for an elderly person to wander or elope.
If your loved one has already suffered harm because they were able to wander or elope, it’s very likely that some type of negligence was involved by the staff at their facility. You’re entitled to a full investigation and to know precisely what happened. It may be wise to seek legal guidance to help you get justice and compensation for your loved one.