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Is Your Elderly Loved One at Risk for Elopement?

Published on Feb 13, 2019 at 3:18 pm in Personal Injury.

In a nursing home facility, residents are supposed to be regularly monitored to ensure their health and wellbeing are maintained. Unfortunately, when nursing home employees are understaffed or undertrained, residents can sustain significant injuries. Physical abuse, poor dietary options, few social activities, and unsanitary conditions can all result in harm. While those situations all take place in the facility, a resident is put in even more danger when they unknowingly leave their nursing home.

What is Elopement?

Elopement occurs when a nursing home resident leaves their facility. This can be dangerous for a number of reasons – the most pressing related to the elements they’re walking into. It is likely they will not have the appropriate clothes on to be outside. They may be lacking shoes, which could contribute to any possible falls. If the person is disoriented, they may be unaware of how far they’ve gotten from their facility and may not know how to contact their loved ones.

If they elope in during the summer months, they are at risk for dehydration and sunburn. Dehydration can be particularly dangerous for elderly individuals and could result in fainting. Elopement in the winter time can be deadly, especially when temperatures are low. If a resident leaves in the middle of the night and is unprepared for dropping temperatures and harsh weather, they are at risk for hypothermia.

How are Wandering and Elopement Related?

Wandering and elopement are often used interchangeably however, they define two different concepts. Nursing home residents who are prone to wandering are at risk for elopement. Wandering is a common behavior problem that involves cognitive impairments. Those impairments include difficulty with abstract thinking, spatial skills, judgment, and language. Disorientation, difficulty understanding environment, low social interaction, and excessive pacing are also related to wandering.

There are two types of wandering: goal-directed and non-goal directed. When wandering is goal-directed, the person may appear to be searching for something or someone. They may also be looking for something to do. Non-goal directed wandering occurs when a person moves aimlessly and has a very short attention span. Individuals with dementia are more prone to wandering.

Wandering in itself is not necessarily a negative behavior. Wanderers could be fulfilling a need for exercise or receiving sensory stimulation. When someone who wanders tries to elope, however, the consequences can be serious. While a wandering person could end up in someone else’s room or the kitchen of a nursing home, a resident who elopes leaves the facility altogether.

How Can Elopement be Prevented?

Preventing elopement starts with the nursing home facility providing your loved one with the care they deserve. This requires regular check-ins. The facility must ensure their employees are trained on the matter of elopement. If staff members are aware of the issue, there’s a chance they’ll be able to recognize the signs and keep a closer eye on at-risk residents. There should also be a security system in place that alerts employees when residents are trying to leave.

Long-term care facilities need to offer a variety of engaging programs. Having a full schedule can reduce the risk of elopement in high-risk individuals. A busy activity program keeps residents engaged and reduces instances of boredom. Feelings of enjoyment, community, and belonging may also be fostered – which can make residents more comfortable with their surroundings and less inclined to leave.

Who Can be Held Accountable for Instances of Elopement?

If your loved one’s nursing home failed to notice they wandered off and they suffered injuries as a result, you have the right as a West Virginia resident to take legal action on their behalf. With the help of DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC, we will investigate your claim and determine where the long-term care facility went wrong.

Nursing homes have a responsibility to ensure their residents are where they’re supposed to be. Your loved one’s nursing home records and state inspection records may give some insight into where the facility wronged your loved ones. If your loved one was known to be at risk for elopement or a state inspection reveals systematic failures in regard to handling instances of elopement, we can prove your loved one did not receive the care they needed or were legally supposed to receive.

Presenting a strong case will be the only way to hold the nursing home accountable for their actions and ensure your family has the compensation they need to recover. To learn more about your legal options or for a free claim evaluation, get in touch with us today.

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