When you make the difficult decision to put a loved one in a nursing home, you naturally have a lot of fears. One of those fears is that your loved one may wander away from the facility. So, before you decide to place them in an assisted living facility, it’s natural to wonder what the risk factors are for wandering and elopement in nursing homes. Some of those risk factors include:
- Degenerative mental illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or dementia
- Pre-existing cognitive issues such as traumatic brain injury or intellectual disability
- Pre-existing medical conditions such as schizophrenia
Being placed in a nursing home or assisted living facility can be traumatizing and disorienting for an elderly person. The unfamiliar environment, combined with this disorientation, can sometimes cause elderly people to leave in an attempt to “go home” or return to some point in their past.
Nursing Homes Have a Duty to Minimize the Chances of Wandering or Elopement
The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 (42 U.S. Code § 1395i–3) requires nursing homes to ensure their patients receive adequate care and be free from abuse and neglect. Part of that includes taking active measures to minimize the chances a patient will leave the facility unattended.
They can and should take several proactive steps as part of that duty. Some of these steps include, but are not limited to:
- Always maintaining the staffing levels necessary to monitor and supervise the residents effectively
- Securing the facility’s entry and exit points
- Taking extra care to observe and check in on residents who exhibit high-risk factors for wandering and elopement
- Keeping residents engaged and stimulated
Nursing homes that don’t take proactive steps such as these may be guilty of negligence if one of their residents wanders or elopes from the facility. Aside from these obvious proactive steps, if a patient does wander away, the nursing home should advise the missing resident’s relatives of their loved one’s status as quickly as possible and call the authorities to locate them.
What Are the Potential Dangers of Wandering and Elopement?
Wandering and elopement pose several potential dangers to patients. First, because they live in a nursing home, they are likely unable to care for themselves. That puts them at increased risk of being assaulted, robbed, or accosted by unsavory members of the general public after wandering or eloping. They may also trip or fall on the uneven surfaces of public sidewalks outside the nursing home.
Second, many nursing home residents are on a regimen of time-sensitive medications. This medication is not available to them if they’ve left the nursing home unattended, and this lack of treatment can lead to severe health complications or even death.
Nursing home residents may also be very sensitive to the elements. Most nursing homes and assisted living facilities have climate controls to ensure the optimal temperature for their residents’ comfort. After wandering from the nursing home, your elderly loved one may be exposed to harmful weather conditions like extreme heat, cold, or precipitation. The longer a wandering nursing home patient is in these conditions, the higher the risk to their health.
Do You Suspect Nursing Home Negligence Played a Factor in Your Loved One Wandering or Eloping?
Nursing homes should be secured facilities, but they aren’t prisons. Although it’s the staff’s job to make sure patients don’t leave, the fact remains that patients are unpredictable, and even elderly patients can be resourceful in “escaping” from a nursing home. With that said, if your loved one was injured after wandering or eloping from a nursing home, you have the right to know how and why it happened.
Nursing home staff should notify you as soon as they realize your loved one has wandered off, and they should have a protocol in place for how they handle that situation. This protocol should include things like the following:
- Contacting the authorities
- Having a recent photo of your loved one they can show to police and first responders
If they don’t contact you immediately, or you suspect nursing home negligence played a part in your loved one wandering away from the facility and being hurt, it’s important to know you have options.
A Nursing Home Neglect Lawyer Can Help if Your Loved One Was Injured Due to Nursing Home Negligence
Brown & Barron is a personal injury law firm that helps victims of nursing home neglect hold negligent nursing homes accountable. Our firm has represented nursing home negligence victims and their families for decades.
If you believe your loved one wandered off or eloped from their assisting living facility and got hurt due to nursing home negligence, we want to talk to you. We offer free consultations, and you can reach out to us anytime. We’re available, experienced, and ready to fight for you. places a deadline on nursing home abuse or neglect lawsuits in Maryland, so don’t wait—call today.