Senior “elopement” occurs when the elderly wander away from their living space unattended, and it’s a relatively common phenomenon in long-term care and assisted living facilities. It can also be incredibly dangerous for vulnerable seniors with dementia, as they may no longer be able to successfully navigate around busy streets or city sidewalks without supervision.
Although the primary cause of elopement is dementia in residents, there are many ways that nursing home negligence can contribute to this devastating outcome. In this blog, our team at Brown & Barron will explore a few of the most common causes of elopement in seniors.
Defining The Causes Of Senior Elopement
Dementia is a syndrome that affects memory, behavior, and the ability to perform “activities of daily living” or ADLs. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, at least 6 in 10 dementia patients will try to wander off at some point. When some seniors develop dementia, their family members may choose to have them admitted to a nursing home where they will be monitored 24 hours a day by skilled nursing professionals.
Unfortunately, nursing homes are not always as vigilant against elopement as you might expect them to be, given their obligation to watch and assist nursing home residents. In 2004, one group of researchers found three main reasons for elopement at nursing homes: A lack of effective precautions, failure to supervise residents, and poor or incomplete use of alarm devices.
Here are some of the other ways that nursing homes might fail to protect residents from elopement:
- Lack of attention to those who have dementia or a high wandering risk
- Failure to keep staff updated about frequent wanderers
- Staffing levels that fall below federal and state requirements
- Malfunctioning or inadequate security and alarm systems
What Can I Do When My Loved One Becomes Injured?
During an elopement, seniors with dementia may become involved in horrible car accidents or trip and fall on the pavement. With so little situational awareness, it’s easy for these vulnerable seniors to become severely injured while they are wandering out in the world. If your loved one has sustained injuries after wandering off the premises of their nursing home or assisted living facility, you may be able to pursue a lawsuit against the facility on their behalf.
In order to have a valid lawsuit, you would need to show that:
- The facility had a “duty of care” towards your loved one as the resident and should have known they were a wandering risk.
- The facility violated that duty of care by failing to monitor and supervise them properly.
- As a result of this violation, your loved one left the premises and became seriously injured; and
- You and your family suffered substantial financial and psychological losses because of your loved one’s injuries.
When you work with Brown & Barron, our elopement attorneys can help you figure out the right course of action for your family and determine if you have a case. We have over 75 years of combined experience – and we’re committed to fighting for justice on behalf of injured nursing home residents in Baltimore and beyond.
Why Do Nursing Home Residents Escape Or Wander Off?
One of the most difficult aspects of wandering and elopement cases is understanding why they occur in the first place. Nursing home residents may be coping with cognitive issues preventing them from being aware of their surroundings. Dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease may leave a resident prone to being confused or wandering from their room.
In the end, most residents that elope or wander cannot explain why they did so. Often, they are reliving a moment earlier in their life and are attempting to return home, go to work, or meet a family member. Regardless of the reason, it is vital that nursing home staff prevent residents from eloping. Management should have safety measures in place to stop this from happening and prevent future tragedies.
The Risks Of Elopement Are Significant
There are serious safety risks that come with elopement. In some situations, the injuries that result can be life-threatening or fatal. Even when they are not, long-term injuries are also a common outcome. These injuries are largely avoidable when nursing home facilities take reasonable steps to prevent elopement or wandering.
Weather Conditions And Busy Roads Can Lead To Injury
In some areas, residents face a severe threat from the elements—especially in extreme heat or cold. These dangers can be heightened when a resident is gone for long periods of time. In cold temperatures, there is a serious risk of frostbite or hypothermia, which is a dangerous drop in body temperature due to exposure to the cold. In hot temperatures, an elderly resident that elopes could succumb to heat stroke or dehydration.
Another major risk associated with elopement involves wandering into traffic. This risk is higher when a facility is located near a major road or highway. Bodies of water such as lakes and canals can also attract wandering nursing home residents. Drowning poses another serious risk.
Falling Risks Are High With Elopement
Nursing home residents frequently face the risk of falling. Of the 1.6 million residents in nursing homes, about half suffer from falls every year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
Navigating public streets or sidewalks can be especially difficult for those with balance issues and other mobility problems. That’s why management needs to be aware of the risks residents face if they escape from nursing homes and work to prevent them.
Nursing Homes Can Prevent Elopement
The reality of most elopement cases is that they could have been prevented if the nursing home facility had taken the appropriate precautions. A nursing home with properly trained staff and a system in place to prevent escape can work to prevent residents from leaving unaccompanied. Unfortunately, some facilities never take these steps.
Investing in technology can prevent wandering or elopement. This investment often pays off, but it is not always enough. Some prevention methods used by nursing homes include alarm bracelets, door codes, and surveillance cameras.
Technology is a helpful deterrent but hiring a well-trained staff that understands elopement risks is critical. When nursing homes fail to hire enough employees or provide them with adequate training, no amount of technological measures can prevent every case of elopement.
Brown & Barron Can Help
If nursing home negligence is to blame for your loved one’s injuries after escaping from their facility, we are here to help hold the liable party accountable. Call Brown & Barron today for your free and confidential consultation.