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Nursing home elopement is a preventable tragedy

If you have ever received a call from your parent's nursing home saying that he or she was missing, you know the feeling that thousands of families have felt. Your loved one's Alzheimer's or other form of dementia makes wandering more likely, but you never thought your parent would leave the grounds of the nursing home without someone noticing.

You may have decided to place your parent in a home with special provisions for those with dementia. Sixty percent of patients with dementia become disoriented and may wander off. If your loved one's nursing home staff failed to recognize the signs or the dangers, you may feel you have a right to answers.

The frightening dangers of wandering

The wandering off, or elopement, of a dementia patient is an emergency, and the staff of a facility understands the consequences of failing to locate someone who has eloped. When residents wander from their nursing homes, they may not have taken the time to dress appropriately for the weather. In fact, many wander off in their pajamas. The elderly are more susceptible to the harshness of the environment, so cold or heat can easily lead to death by exposure.

Additionally, elderly men and women often have difficulty walking or issues with balance, so many who elope suffer injuries from falls. A resident who requires medication on a regular basis may suffer ill effects from missed doses even if he or she is only gone a short time.

Safeguards

Are there protections in place in your loved one's nursing home? Some facilities may rely on an alarm at the front door, but those with experience know that a nursing home staff quickly becomes desensitized to that alarm and may fail to respond. Methods for preventing elopement that other long-term-care facilities use include the following:

  • Careful screening of each patient's potential to wander
  • Photos of each patient posted by the front door
  • An adequate number of highly trained staff
  • Codes on every door that leads out of the building
  • Arm bracelets that activate alarms in doorways
  • Motion sensors activated at night
  • Training on recognizing signs that a dementia resident may be agitated and more prone to wandering

If your loved one's Texas long-term-care facility does not have safeguards in place to prevent wandering and protocol for swift action in the unlikely event of an elopement, you may wish to discuss this with the administration. However, if your loved one has already suffered from the effects of wandering off grounds unchecked, legal assistance may provide the results you seek.

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