In all likelihood, you made the difficult decision to place your parent in a nursing care facility because you wanted to be certain he or she would be safe. Perhaps one or more incidents of your parent wandering off led you to this decision. Those terrifying moments, hours or days when an elderly loved one goes missing can douse any hopes you may have had of keeping your loved one home and caring for him or her yourself.
Unfortunately, despite the promises and expense, an elder care facility may not offer any better protection than you could. In fact, an overworked or apathetic staff may not notice your loved one is missing until too much time has passed for a positive ending. If this happens to your family, you may have many questions about how such a preventable event occurred.
Protections for your loved one
You may have expected the facility where your loved one lived to have safeguards, alarms and routines in place to address the very common potential that residents will wander. When an elderly nursing home resident leaves the facility or grounds unnoticed, it is known as elopement. Attempts at elopement should not surprise a nursing home staff since nearly 80 percent of those who wander do so persistently. Because of this, nursing homes should have the minimum of the following safeguards in place:
- Frequently accounting for patients, especially between nursing shifts and during active or stressful events
- Establishing a policy of accountability for those who visit your loved one and those who remove him or her from the facility
- Installing adequate alarm systems
- Training staff to notice signs of elopement and how to prevent desensitization to alarms
- Assessing the facility for areas that may be weak, such as open windows or back doors the staff does not monitor
- Creating a protocol for identifying when a resident has eloped and taking steps immediately, including notifying police as well as you and your family
Perhaps the most effective measure to prevent your loved one from wandering away is to properly assess him or her and reevaluate periodically. A resident with a low risk level may not require a more secured unit or observation. However, medications, illness or advancing age may quickly change this, and your loved one's nursing staff should be careful to observe and monitor any changes in behavior.
Elopement can be dangerous, even deadly. Many elderly who wander away from safe places end up falling, missing critical doses of medicine or facing exposure to extreme weather. You have the right to hold an elder care facility responsible if your loved one suffers after a preventable elopement.