For many South Carolina families, the decision to move a loved one to a nursing home is the result of concern for the loved one’s safety. Elderly family members who are showing signs of dementia or have received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can quickly become a danger to themselves, and having a trained and skilled nursing staff to monitor them can give families peace of mind.
However, that peace can be shattered in a terrifying moment when they learn their loved one has wandered away from the nursing home. “Elopement” is the term nursing homes use when a resident leaves the property without the staff’s knowledge. Often, cases of elopement end in tragedy. If your loved one has suffered trauma, injury or death during an elopement, you may feel justifiably frustrated since elopement is a preventable event.
Basic steps for safety
Nearly 60% of those who suffer from dementia also have the tendency to wander. For this reason, nursing homes should have every reasonable precaution in place to protect their residents from this danger. If your loved one wanders from the safe confines of the nursing facility, he or she may miss critical doses of medication, suffer injuries from a fall, or become dehydrated. Someone in poor health may suffer adversely from hot or cold weather.
You may not even want to imagine the kind of confusion and emotional trauma your loved one may endure while lost and alone. However, it is easy to consider the precautions a nursing home should have in place when dealing with residents who may wander, including:
- Alerting all staff members to those residents who are most at risk for wandering
- Training staff to recognize signs, such as unusual agitation or confusion, that may indicate a resident may wander
- Paying close attention to residents who have recently changed medication or moved to a new room since changes may lead to confusion and wandering
- Frequently checking on residents during the night in case they wake up unsure of where they are and try to get back home
- Installing alarms or other devices to alert staff members that someone is trying to elope
- Having procedures in place to promptly deal with residents who leave the facility unsupervised
When a nursing home is short-handed or the staff is poorly trained, your loved one may face the highest risk of elopement. These are times when staff members may not take the time to give personal attention or to mentally engage those with dementia. Nevertheless, even with a reduced staff, the safety and well-being of your loved one must be a high priority, including establishing a routine to prevent elopement.