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What is elopement?

Unless you have a loved one with dementia, you may think that "elopement" refers to running off to Vegas to get married. Elopement is also the word used when people (usually those with a cognitive impairment) wander away from home -- whether it's their own home or a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Elopement in elderly people with dementia can be dangerous and potentially deadly. In fact, it's considered one of the greatest safety risks to people who suffer from dementia. It's not limited to those with dementia, however.

It's essential for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to regularly determine how likely a person is to wander. Sometimes, even people who don't appear to have the physical ability to do so, including those in wheelchairs, have gotten out unnoticed.

Risk factors include:

  • Being left alone
  • Changes to medication or routine
  • Being in an unfamiliar environment
  • Seeking to engage in a practice from the past or simply to go home

If you're looking at nursing homes or assisted living facilities for a loved one, it's important to ask what their procedures are when a patient or resident elopes. They should have a formal search procedure in place and treat such incidents with the urgency they warrant.

No one wants to see their loved one held prisoner. You want them to have as much autonomy as they can safely handle. However, it's important to find out what the security measures are to ensure that no one goes outside unaccompanied. That's where elderly people can face the greatest dangers, including being struck by a car and being the victims of violent crime.

If a loved one has been injured because he or she wandered away from a nursing home or other care facility, it's essential to find out what your legal options are. You may be able to get needed compensation for medical care and other damages and help prevent the same thing from happening to others.

Source: Managed Health Care Connect, "Wandering and Elopement in Nursing Homes," accessed Sep. 29, 2017

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