Elopement occurs anytime a nursing home resident leaves the grounds without authorization or supervision. Elopement is synonymous with the term “wandering”. Able-bodied nursing home patients living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease may become confused or disoriented and can leave the property. Elopement can place a dementia patient’s personal safety at great risk. Occurrences can be more likely when facility staff members are negligent, inattentive, or lack sufficient resources to supervise all patients and facility exits consistently.
- Dementia patients, making up nearly 50% of all nursing home residents, are most likely to wander.
- Environmental changes, schedule/routine changes, and an expressed desire to go home can all prompt elopement in a dementia patient.
- Studies show that most elopement takes place within 48 hours of admission.
- There is a 25% fatality rate if the elopement subject is not located within the first 24 hours.
Preventing Elopement and Managing Risk
Friends and family members of current or potential residents should check to see if the facility has a new patient assessment program and a special system for handling high-risk patients. Check to see if the facility utilizes video monitoring or silent alarms that notify staff members when doors are activated. Staff members should be aware of all patients who are at-risk for wandering.
Facilities should also have formal response and search plans to define staff roles and responsibilities in cases of suspected elopement. Photographs and other descriptive information should be on file for each of the home’s residents.
Friends and family should ask questions and speak to facility management about elopement programs. Ask to see copies of elopement plans and request explanations of preventive measures. Lacking elopement policies or unclear procedures can be an early sign of potential neglect or inept care and inattention in other areas of the facility. Family members may wish to file a complaint in any cases where elopement incidents become a repeat issue at their loved one’s nursing home.