In the nursing home setting, elopement is considered a type of unsupervised wandering. Specifically, it is unsupervised wandering which results in a resident leaving the nursing home facility. Supervision is a critical component to a safe nursing home facility. Equally important is that nursing home residents do not enter into situation which may put themselves or others at risk of bodily harm. Elopement is a specific example of nursing home staff failing to meet two central expectations of care: supervision and security. The result is endangerment of residents.
Reasons for Elopement
Any member of a nursing home population may elope at some point in time. There are no defining traits that accompany elopement among nursing home residents. However, a resident’s mental and physical attributes may come into play when it comes to elopement.
From a mental standpoint, residents who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of mental impairment may be more likely to elope. When eloping, a resident may mistakenly feel that they need to get home to feed a pet, or get back to the office. Individuals with existing psychiatric diseases or mental impairments should usually be placed on an increased watch for elopement by nursing home staff.
From a physical standpoint, some residents are more likely than others to elope. Residents with limited mobility stand a lower chance of eloping. Those who are in wheelchairs or have difficulty walking are less likely to elope. However, those residents who have full mobility but impaired mental function may be prime candidates for elopement, and thus need to be carefully monitored by nursing home staff.
Increasing Elopement Risks
The risk of elopement endangerment is on the rise. Between 2006 and 2009, the number of reported cases of elopement increased by 38 percent. When a nursing home resident elopes and leaves the nursing home grounds unattended, they put themselves at risk of injury. Residents who have eloped may be exposed to extreme heat or cold. They may suffer a fall when walking over uneven or unfamiliar territory. Additionally, they may suffer injuries or death as a result of wandering into traffic or bodies of water, or as a result of exposure to inclement weather. Wandering in nursing homes has been becoming an increasing epidemic, especially with alzheimer’s patients.
The single greatest factor which can prevent elopement is proper training and vigilance on the part of nursing home staff. It is important for nursing home staff to be well-versed on the habits of residents. Additionally, it is necessary for staff to be familiar with the specific mental and physical issues that residents may have – residents who suffer from mental issues that increase their likelihood of elopement need to be more closely watched. When elopement does take place, it is often a result of too little supervision.
Exits which are not intended to be operated by nursing home residents should be either locked securely or equipped with alarms. In addition to keeping a close eye on residents, it is important for nursing home staff to make sure that the alarms on exits work correctly. It is also the responsibility of nursing home staff to respond promptly in the event that a door alarm goes off.
Elopement after Negligence
In some cases, elopement may come as a result of negligence on the part of nursing home staff. In cases where nursing home negligence leads to the elopement of a loved one, a lawsuit may be filed by family members on their behalf. Injuries or untimely death could occur due to the nursing home staff’s negligence.
Negligence on the part of nursing staff may involve failure to supervise residents and categorize them by their likelihood of eloping. Additionally, negligence may involve nursing home staff’s failure to respond quickly to door alarms which signal an unauthorized exit from the facility. Oftentimes, these gaps in safety come as a result of a nursing home being understaffed or populated with employees who are not properly trained.
Coughlin, Kevin. “Elopement Guidelines for Assisted Living Facilities.” Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 20 5 2010. Web. 30 May 2013. http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/rl_dsl/publications/10-009.htm
Thill, Laura. “Preventing Elopement.” Repertoire. 16.3 (2008): n. page. Web. 30 May. 2013. http://www.repertoiremag.com/Article.asp?Id=2892