Nursing home patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and other mentally debilitating illnesses, may experience elopement during their stay in a nursing home facility. Elopement, also known as wandering, in the nursing home setting refers to the patient leaving a facility without notice. Many wandering patients are found right outside the dwelling and taken back in by a staff member.
According to Alzheimers.About.com, wandering occurs for up to 60% of patients with dementia. Thus, it is important for nursing home facilities to take necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of the patients and to keep them from leaving the facilities too easily without supervision. Proper staffing of security personnel can help prevent most cases of elopement and may even prevent serious injuries and even death.
Residents who tend to wander may have a mental impairment that causes them to believe they need to do something important such as visiting a family member or feeding their dog at home. Any memory from the past can trigger the need for the patient to leave the facility to another place.
Unmistakably, nursing home patients with physical problems that prevent their mobility are less prone to elopement than those who can walk properly. If an elderly person has had a history of previous elopement, family members should let the nursing home staff know so they can prevent further incidents of wandering from happening.
Wandering may occur due to changes in medication, unwelcome change, and being overwhelmed with the new living setting. Elopement can also happen when an elderly patient needs to use the restroom and a staff member is not there to help. The patient may get up to use the restroom but actually forget where he was going and head to the door.
Another important thing to notice is that elderly people with dementia and other cognitive impairments are more prone to injuries due to wandering. Nursing home facilities need to regularly check the residents’ elopement histories and assess the probability of other individuals wandering even though they have not done it before.
Elopement is not only possible in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia related issues. Patients with sleep disorders, elevated levels of stress, and aggressive tendencies can also present episodes of wandering.
In order to determine a patient’s propensity to wander, many tools exist in psychiatric care. One of them is the Cohen-Mansfield Agitation Inventory (CMAI), which uses a rating scale based on 29 related behaviors. These tests can help decrease potential injures associated with wandering in nursing home patients.
In addition to the tests, staff members in nursing homes also need to be properly trained to deal with elopement and security measures. Staff members also need to remain vigilant to ensure patients do not leave the facilities without a proper exit procedure.
Failure to enforce the necessary security measures to avoid patients from wandering could be a case of neglect on the part of the nursing home. Another example of negligence is if the staff does not act quickly when an alarm goes off signaling a possible wandering patient. If you suspect a nursing home facility’s staff member is acting negligently, causing the wandering of elderly residents, a lawsuit may be necessary.
Wandering can also trigger a series of injuries such as falls, bruises, and broken bones. Elopement could even be fatal in some cases, thus the importance of prevention.
Nursing homes need to make sure they are properly staffed to handle elopement cases within the community, and they must ensure that the staff is well trained in the matter.