Nursing homes are supposed to be safe, secure environments in which elderly and medically vulnerable individuals can receive the care they need. These are often the safest places for older patients, especially those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. But can a person leave a nursing home? And if so, when is it safe to do so, and when is it not?
Key Points and Questions We’ll Cover in This Blog Include…
- What is elopement, and why is it dangerous?
- Who is most at risk for wandering and elopement?
- What can nursing homes do to protect patients from eloping?
When Is It Safe for a Resident To Leave a Nursing Home?
Residents can safely leave nursing home premises when they are being properly and adequately supervised by staff, friends, or family members.
It can be appropriate for residents or patients to leave their nursing facilities for:
- Group field trips or outings
- Social gatherings with friends
- Family events
- Medical care or hospitalizations
Outings and visits with friends and family are important components of mental and social health. However, it is important that all participants take the correct steps when leaving the facility. This may include signing a resident out and alerting certain staff members.
Requirements for safely leaving a nursing home will vary from place to place, so be sure to check with you or your loved one’s nursing facility’s policy.
Defining and Understanding Elopement
In skilled nursing facilities, elopement occurs when a patient leaves or wanders off the property without permission or supervision.
DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC wants to make something very clear—elopement is never acceptable. Any time that a patient elopes, it is a sign that a nursing home is not taking necessary precautions to protect the physical safety and well-being of its residents.
Who Is at Risk for Elopement?
Patients with cognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s are at the highest risk of eloping.
Wandering is a known problem among individuals living with Alzheimer’s. Approximately 60% of dementia patients will wander at least one time, although it tends to become a repeated behavior over time. The risk of wandering increases as people begin to lose the ability to recognize the faces of loved ones or familiar places.
Older adults with dementia represent a larger portion of the U.S. population than many people may realize. According to Columbia University, around 10% of adults over the age of 65 have dementia. Another 22% are living with mild cognitive impairments.
However, anyone can be an elopement risk. It is important for nursing homes to enact safety measures that protect all patients from wandering, not just those with cognitive impairments.
The Dangers of Nursing Home Elopement
Leaving a nursing home without permission, supervision, or awareness of the staff can be incredibly dangerous. Eloped residents are at risk for:
- Weather-related injuries (especially during periods of extreme heat or cold)
- Crimes or assaults
- Fall injuries
- Pedestrian accidents
- Dehydration or malnutrition
- Accidental drownings
- Exposure to illnesses or disease
When a resident wanders off from their nursing home, they are at an increased risk of suffering a preventable injury or illness. During this time, they may also miss essential medical care or treatment, which can exacerbate or worsen existing medical conditions.
How West Virginia Nursing Homes Can Prevent Elopement
Facilities and staff have an important responsibility to protect and care for patients. This includes ensuring that premises are secure and that residents (especially those at-risk for wandering) are always well-supervised.
With adults prone to wandering making up more than 30% of people aged 65 and over, there is never an excuse or reason for a facility to be ill-equipped to handle these patients.
To prevent resident elopement, nursing homes should:
- Secure exterior doors and have a lockdown system in place
- Use wander management bracelets when appropriate
- Maintain functioning security cameras at entrances and exits
- Increase patient monitoring during high-risk periods (including mealtimes, on holidays, and during shift changes)
- Make exits less obvious to residents
- Create and implement individual care plans
- Train staff on wandering and elopement prevention
Family members can also play an important role in preventing wandering and elopement. If you have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease or who is otherwise at risk for wandering, make a point to stop by their nursing home frequently.
Stagger your visits on different days and during different times. Observe how secure the facility appears. Note whether patients have access to areas that they shouldn’t and whether anyone is watching the entrances or exits. If you are ever concerned that staff members are failing to properly monitor your loved one, make a complaint right away. And, if the facility does not take actionable steps to address your concerns, don’t be afraid of filing a complaint, moving your family member to a new facility, or speaking with a lawyer.
Helping West Virginia Families Understand Their Legal Rights and Protections
With more than 150 years of combined experience, DiPiero Simmons McGinley & Bastress, PLLC has been helping West Virginia families for four decades. We are proud to provide unparalleled legal guidance to members of our community.
We regularly meet with injury or abuse victims and their families to answer complex legal questions and to provide direction on their legal cases. So whether you’re wondering, “Can a person leave a nursing home?” or “What constitutes neglect in a care facility?” we’re here to help.
Our team of Charleston nursing home abuse attorneys provides completely free case evaluations. Not only are these meetings 100% free, they’re also 100% free of obligation. So please contact us today to schedule your informational meeting—we’re here to help.