Nursing home residents with cognitive declines, such as dementia, often have decreased safety awareness and orientation and may exhibit behaviors that put them at risk. It is estimated that up to 31 percent of nursing home residents wander at least once. Residents who have dementia can exhibit wandering behavior at any stage of their illness and may be susceptible to forms of abuse, including financial exploitation . While wandering may seem “aimless” to caregivers, it frequently has purpose to the person exhibiting the behavior. For example, the resident may wander in order to use up extra energy, as a response to unmet physical or psychological needs, or as a result from stress. Residents who wander are at higher risk for elopement, or leaving a nursing facility unsupervised and without the knowledge of their caregivers.
Duty of Nursing Homes to Protect Residents
Nursing facilities have the responsibility to keep residents with wandering behaviors safe. Residents with a history of wandering should have a care plan with interventions to support that individual’s behavior. Interventions may include redirection, engagement in activities, and walking with staff. Some facilities have a secured (locked) unit for residents with wandering behaviors; others have monitoring systems in place.
If an elopement does occur, staff response is crucial. An internal and external search of the facility should be initiated immediately. It is appropriate for the facility to contact outside authorities, such as the police, to assist in the search if the resident is not located swiftly. Residents who elope and are not found within 24 hours have approximately a 25 percent fatality rate, most frequently as a result of hyperthermia, dehydration, or drowning.
What is Elopement?
Elopements frequently occur residents have not been properly assessed for wandering. Since almost half of elopements occur within 48 hours of admission, it’s important that a screen for elopement occurs quickly and interventions are immediately implemented. To discourage elopement, a facility may intervene with the application of a transmitting wristband device. In spite of this, elopement may still occur due to equipment failure or process failure within the nursing facility. For example, if the staff fails to monitor the wristband’s function regularly, they may be unaware that a device has failed.
If your loved one was seriously injured as a result of wandering or elopement in a long term care facility, call attorney Brent Wieand for a free, no obligation consultation.