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What is Wandering and Elopement in Nursing Homes?

Nursing home elopement refers to the situation where a resident of a nursing home or assisted living facility wanders away or leaves the premises without authorization or supervision. Elopement can occur when a resident exits the facility through unlocked doors or windows, climbs over fences, or simply walks out of the front door.

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Elopement Risks in Nursing Homes

What is Nursing Home Elopement?

Elopement risks in nursing homes are significant and can have serious consequences for residents' health and safety. Some of the risks associated with elopement in nursing homes include:

Exposure To The Elements

Residents who wander away from the facility may be exposed to extreme heat or cold, which can lead to dehydration, hypothermia, or other health complications.


Residents who wander away may be at risk of falls, accidents, or other injuries, especially if they have mobility or balance issues.

Wandering Into Unsafe Areas

Residents who elope may wander into dangerous or unsafe areas, such as:

  • busy roads
  • or bodies of water

which can lead to serious injury or death.

Delayed Medical Attention

If a resident is missing for an extended period of time, they may not receive necessary medical attention in a timely manner, which can lead to further health complications.

Emotional Distress

Elopement can be a traumatic and stressful experience for residents and their families, leading to emotional distress and anxiety.

Increased Liability For the Nursing Home

Nursing homes can be held liable for injuries or harm suffered by residents who wander away due to inadequate supervision or security measures.

To mitigate elopement risks, nursing homes can take a variety of preventative measures, including implementing electronic monitoring systems, securing doors and windows, providing adequate supervision and staffing, and ensuring residents receive proper care and attention to meet their needs.

What Causes Elopement in Nursing Homes?

Elopement in memory care facilities is often caused by a combination of factors related to the resident's health and the environment of the facility. Some of the common causes of elopement in memory care facilities include:

Cognitive Impairment

Residents with memory problems, dementia, or Alzheimer's disease may become disoriented and wander away from the facility. They may not remember where they are, where they live, or how to get back.

Lack of Supervision

Memory care facilities may be understaffed or not have enough trained staff to provide adequate supervision of residents. This can lead to residents wandering away unnoticed.

Inadequate Security Measures

Facilities may have inadequate security measures, such as unlocked doors or windows, that allow residents to exit the facility without authorization.

Unfamiliar Environment

Residents may become confused and disoriented in an unfamiliar environment, such as a new room or wing of the facility, and wander away in an attempt to find their way back.

Restlessness or Agitation

Some residents may become restless or agitated due to medication changes, pain, or other health issues, and may wander away as a way to relieve their discomfort.

Lack of Engagement

Residents who are bored or unengaged may wander away from the facility in search of stimulation or social interaction.

It is important for memory care facilities to implement measures to prevent elopement, such as:

  • providing adequate supervision
  • implementing security measures
  • and creating a safe and engaging environment for residents.

Statistics About Elopement in Nursing Homes

  • According to a study published in the Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect, elopement (also known as wandering or bolting) occurs in approximately 31% of nursing home residents with dementia.
  • Another study published in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing found that elopement occurred in 15.9% of nursing home residents with dementia over a one-year period.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires nursing homes to report instances of elopement that pose a potential harm to residents. According to CMS data, there were 2,573 incidents of elopement from nursing homes reported in 2019.

What To Do If Your Loved One Wandered Away From Their Nursing Home

If you suspect that your loved one has wandered away from their nursing home, it is important to act quickly to ensure their safety. Here are some steps you can take:

Notify The Nursing Home Staff

Contact the nursing home immediately and inform them that your loved one is missing. Ask if they have any information on your loved one's whereabouts, and if they have initiated a search.

Contact The Police

If you cannot locate your loved one, contact the police and report them missing. Provide the police with a description of your loved one, including any identifying marks or clothing, and any information you have about their whereabouts.

Search The Immediate Area

If you are able to search for your loved one, start by searching the immediate area around the nursing home. Look for any familiar places your loved one might have gone or ask people in the area if they have seen anyone matching your loved one's description.

Ask For Help

Ask friends, family members, and neighbors to help with the search. You may also want to contact local community groups, such as churches or civic organizations, to ask for assistance.

Stay Calm

While it is natural to feel anxious or panicked, it is important to stay calm and focused during the search. Remember that time is of the essence, but also that you need to be alert and aware of your surroundings.

Keep In Touch

Make sure you stay in touch with the nursing home and the police during the search. Let them know if you find any clues or if you have any updates on your loved one's whereabouts.

Follow Up

Once your loved one is found, follow up with the nursing home to find out what measures they are putting in place to prevent future incidents. You may also want to discuss any concerns you have about your loved one's care and safety with the nursing home staff.

How To Prevent Elopement of Nursing Home Residents

Elopement, or wandering off or leaving without permission, is a significant safety concern for nursing home residents, particularly those with dementia or other cognitive impairments. Here are some strategies to prevent elopement:

Adequate Staffing

Nursing homes should ensure that they have enough staff to monitor residents, particularly those at risk of elopement. Staff members should be trained to recognize signs of restlessness, anxiety, or confusion, which may indicate that a resident is at risk of elopement.

Environmental Modifications

Nursing homes can modify the environment to make it more difficult for residents to leave without permission. For example, installing alarms on doors or windows, using door codes or electronic locks, or putting up barriers or fencing around the facility's perimeter can prevent elopement.

Individualized Care Plans

Nursing homes should develop individualized care plans for each resident, which include strategies to prevent elopement. Care plans should be regularly reviewed and updated as needed.

Staff Education

Staff members should receive ongoing training on elopement prevention strategies, including how to recognize the signs of elopement risk and how to respond to elopement attempts.

Family and Caregiver Involvement

Family members and caregivers should be involved in elopement prevention efforts. They can provide valuable information about a resident's habits, preferences, and past behaviors, which can inform elopement prevention strategies.

Use of Technology

Nursing homes can use technology, such as GPS tracking devices or wearable sensors, to monitor residents' movements and prevent elopement.

By implementing these strategies, nursing homes can help prevent elopement and ensure the safety of their residents.

Can I Pursue Legal Action If My Loved One Was Injured After Wandering Away From Their Nursing Home?

If you believe that the nursing home was negligent in allowing your loved one to wander away or failed to provide proper supervision and care, you may have grounds for a legal claim. However, you should speak with an attorney who specializes in nursing home abuse and neglect cases to evaluate the strength of your case.

To pursue legal action, you will need to demonstrate that the nursing home had a duty to provide proper care and supervision to your loved one, that they breached that duty, and that this breach directly caused your loved one's injuries. You may be able to recover damages for:

  • medical expenses
  • pain and suffering
  • and other losses.

It is important to act quickly if you suspect that your loved one has been injured due to negligence on the part of a nursing home. Contact a nursing home elopement lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.

Recent Lawsuits About Nursing Home Elopement

Nursing home elopement is a serious issue that has led to a number of lawsuits in recent years. Elopement occurs when a resident of a nursing home or assisted living facility wanders away from the premises without proper supervision or security measures in place.

Here are some recent lawsuits related to nursing home elopement:

  • In 2020, the family of a resident who died after wandering away from a nursing home in Colorado filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the facility. The family claimed that the nursing home failed to properly supervise the resident, who suffered from dementia and was at risk of elopement.
  • In 2019, a nursing home in Massachusetts settled a lawsuit for $1.5 million after a resident with Alzheimer's disease wandered away from the facility and was found dead several days later. The lawsuit alleged that the nursing home failed to take adequate measures to prevent elopement and did not properly search for the resident when she went missing.
  • In 2018, a nursing home in New York was sued after a resident with dementia eloped and was found dead several miles away from the facility. The lawsuit alleged that the nursing home did not have appropriate security measures in place and failed to properly monitor the resident.

These lawsuits highlight the importance of proper supervision and security measures in nursing homes to prevent elopement and ensure the safety of residents with dementia and other cognitive impairments.

Contact The Law Offices of John M. McCabe

If your loved one wandered off their nursing home's property and was injured, you may be able to file a nursing home elopement lawsuit. Contact us today for a FREE consultation to learn more.

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Call us at (866) 907-1145 24/7 to arrange to speak with a personal injury lawyer about your case, or contact us through the website today.


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