Sweeney Julian
Sweeney Julian

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Why nursing homes need to protect residents from elopement

On Behalf of | Jun 12, 2024 | Personal Injury |

If you’re looking for a nursing home or other care facility for a loved one or if they’re already living in one, you need to know about something called “elopement.” In nursing home parlance, elopement is when someone who’s “cognitively, physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or chemically impaired…escapes, or otherwise leaves a caregiving facility…unsupervised, unnoticed, and/or prior to their scheduled discharge.”

While those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other dementia conditions are the most likely to elope, don’t assume that because your loved one isn’t cognitively impaired, it can’t happen to them. A change in their medication, whether intentional or by mistake, can result in confusion, disorientation and/or agitation that can cause them to leave the property if there’s nothing stopping them. 

Residents who don’t have dementia are most likely to elope in the early days after their move to the facility. They may wake up in the middle of the night and forget where they are. They may simply want to go home.

How wandering can be a precursor to elopement

Some people use “elopement” and “wandering” interchangeably, but they’re two different things. Wandering is when a resident stays in the facility or on the grounds, but they can’t be found. Elopement, as we noted, involves walking out of the facility and off the grounds.

While both can be dangerous, elopement is more likely to result in serious harm or death. A person can be struck by a vehicle, succumb to the elements (like Indiana’s freezing winters or scorching summers) or be the victim of violence. 

In many cases, when a resident wanders, they’re actually trying to find a way out. That’s why someone who disappears and is found on the grounds of or in the facility should be watched very carefully, since they may succeed in eloping.

Nursing homes need safeguards to prevent elopement

Facilities need to have safeguards like alarms and other security equipment on all doors to the outside, regular check-ins on residents and video surveillance at exits. They also need to have protocols that go into place the moment someone is reported missing, including notifying police after a specified period or sooner if there’s reason to believe someone has left the property.

Preventing elopement is part of the duty of care that nursing homes owe their residents. If someone is injured or worse because they were able to leave the property unnoticed, they can be held liable. Their loved ones need to evaluate their legal options for justice and compensation.