Reducing Elopement Risks in Nursing Homes

Elopements from nursing homes and assisted living facilities can have negative outcomes, particularly in cold weather. A recent case in Wisconsin involved a 76 year old resident who left her assisted living facility by climbing out her living room window. A search was conducted and when she was found about 90 minutes later, she was in critical condition and was not wearing any appropriate clothing for the cold temperature. She later died at a hospital.

Facilities must be vigilant in identifying residents with elopement risks and having the appropriate equipment and policies in place to reduce this risk. It is estimated that about 10% of all cases against nursing homes involve elopements. Unfortunately, many times elopements end in death or serious injury. As elopements are not as frequent as events such as falls, some facilities may be lulled into a false sense of security and may not be as prepared.

All residents should be reviewed in terms of their risk profile for wandering behaviors. These assessments need to be updated, particularly when there is a change in condition or mental status. When a resident is identified as an elopement risk, their behaviors should be monitored closely and there should be frequent checks by staff on their whereabouts. Facilities may also want to use products such as WanderGuards to help to keep track of wandering residents. Nursing homes also need to be mindful of windows and entrances to the facility and ensure that these points of access are secure and not easily breached. Facilities should also consider how to respond to elopements. Obviously, the sooner an elopement is discovered, the better chance there is to find the resident unharmed.

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