Wandering and Elopement Differences

Wandering and elopement can lead to an elderly person sustaining a serious injury or suffering from an accidental fall. When nursing home residents are improperly supervised, there is a higher likelihood that elopement or wandering can occur. Improper supervision that leads to resident harm through wandering or eloping can be a sign of negligence on the part of the nursing home. Here is an illustration of the difference between these two related–but different–concepts:


Robert is 78 years old and until recently, lived with his oldest son’s family. Robert had a series of small accidents that resulted from Robert forgetting things. For example, Robert made a pot of tea, forgot that he had made it, and then tried to make it again, only to burn himself on the already hot pot. He also ran himself a bath but forgot the water was running and flooded the upstairs of his son’s home. Robert’s family decided Robert would do better in a nursing home facility. Robert feels like his family has abandoned him at the home, and that he is there against his will. He outwardly expresses his disdain for the home and its staff and threatens to run away. He has already made two attempts to leave the facility without permission. Robert is at risk for “elopement,” i.e., he tries to leave the nursing home without permission or approval to leave.


Julia is 85 years old, lives in a nursing home, and suffers from dementia and other cognitive impairment. She has a recurring delusion where she sees her beloved Yorkshire terrier, Buttons, who passed away several years ago. In these delusions, Buttons playfully sits on Julia’s lap, and then runs away, often in the same direction into the nursing home garden. Julia will spend hours looking in the garden for Buttons, and while she usually stays in the garden, on occasion she has ventured to other parts of the facility’s grounds, unaware that she has left the safety of the garden. Julia is considered a “wandering” risk, by the nursing staff, i.e., she wanders in what appears to be an aimless fashion, and yet she is clearly looking for something in her own mind.

If Julia were to wander too off of the nursing home premises unnoticed and without permission, her wanderings will have converted into elopement.

What Happens When a Resident has Eloped or Wandered Off?

Upon the realization that a resident is missing from the facility, nursing staff members immediately conduct a search of the grounds and nearby surrounding areas to look for the resident. Law enforcement is contacted, as well as the resident’s family members, doctors, and often times the media also becomes involved to assist with the search for the missing resident. Regulatory agencies, such as the Department of Public Health are contacted since resident elopement is often evidence of resident neglect at the nursing home. If your loved one is a victim of nursing home neglect due to staffing shortages or negligence.

If you would like to know more about wandering or elopement, contact our Illinois Elder Abuse law firm at (847) 869-9100. One of our attorneys will carefully listen to your concerns and explain what options are available in a free initial consultation.