Preventing Elopement and Wandering

Elopement and wandering incidents are major safety concerns for the elderly residing in a home.  Wandering, in particular, is sometimes considered to be a pathology.  Residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease have an increased risk of wandering, which can lead to severe injury, an accidental fall, or unfortunately even death. These particular residents often have no perception of the dangers that could possibly await them if they leave the nursing home facility.  Not only are there hazards in the terrain (holes in the ground, objects obstructing a path, etc.), there are wild animals, inclement weather, traffic, or even other people who would take advantage of a mentally incompetent elderly individual.

How to stop wandering and elopement

There are several methods nursing homes could and should apply in an effort to reduce the number of incidents of wandering or eloping residents.  Failure to take such basic steps toward preventing wandering and eloping of residents may be a sign of nursing home abuse or neglect.  Just a few include:

  • Elopement and wandering risk assessments – Wandering and elopement risk assessments are not usually part of the admissions process when a new resident joins a nursing home.  Such assessments are more often made after an incident of wandering or eloping has occurred.  There are many wandering/elopement risk assessments.  One of the more popular assessments is the Dewing Wandering Risk Assessment, which breaks down wandering risk into 5 main categories: No risk, Low probable risk, Moderate actual risk, Significant actual risk and Serious actual risk.  Another common assessment tool is the Revised Algase Wandering Scale, which is a survey of questions to help evaluate an individual’s wandering risk.  Assessments should identify any patterns in the wandering behavior, such as recurring time of day, duration, and path taken by the wander. An assessment should also determine the reason behind the wandering/elopement.
  • Adequate supervision – Adequate supervision of at-risk residents can stop wandering and elopement before it gets out of control.  At least one nursing staff should be stationed so that he or she can visibly inspect outdoor areas where residents are allowed to be.  Further, staff should have a regular habit of occasionally glancing out windows that look towards off-limits areas of the nursing home property, just in case a resident is wandering off or attempting to elope. Having sufficient staff on hand can help reduce the risk of wandering/eloping.
  • Volunteer sitter programs – Many nursing homes enlist the help of volunteers to prevent unsafe wandering and elopement.  Volunteer programs give residents the opportunity to interact with other people, engage in conversation and camaraderie, and provide for a constant source of resident supervision.
  • Engaging activity programming – Having a full and engaging schedule can reduce the risk of elopement in some high-risk residents.  Not only does a busy activity program keep residents engaged and stave off boredom, but it can also help to foster feelings of enjoyment, community, and belonging in residents who may initially not be very keen on moving into a nursing home facility.

To learn more about ways to protect your loved ones against the harms of wandering or elopement, or if you believe there has been an instance of nursing home abuse or neglect, contact our Illinois law firm at (847) 869-9100.