Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking days in your recent memory is the day you took your mother or father to live in a Texas nursing home. You knew at that point your parent's Alzheimer's or dementia was beyond your ability to manage, and you could no longer keep your loved one safe while tending to your own family obligations.
What you never expected was that your loved one would be able to walk out of the nursing home and off the property without anyone on staff noticing. Whether the event ended happily with your parent's safe return or tragically with your loved one suffering injury or death, you have the right to answers.
The Alzheimer's Association reports that almost 60 percent of those who suffer from dementia will wander away from their homes or nursing facilities. Medical professionals refer to this as elopement, and it is always a dangerous situation. Patients who elope are at risk of injury or death due to falls, drowning, getting hit by vehicles or suffering from exposure to extreme weather conditions. If your loved one depends on life-sustaining medication, hours away from nursing care may cause catastrophic harm. Steps a facility can take to prevent elopement include these:
- Taking a careful inventory of your loved one's risk factors for elopement, including a history of attempts to leave, past wandering, comments about leaving or medication that may cause restlessness
- Training staff to watch for signs of elopement and to make frequent checks, every 15 minutes, on high-risk residents
- Recognizing the pattern of events or specific triggers that may cause wandering
- Keeping your parent and other residents engaged in activities to stimulate their minds and distract them from thoughts of wandering
- Investing in quality alarm systems and training staff not to become desensitized to alarms
- Posting photos at nurses' stations and doors of your loved one and others who are prone to elopement attempts
While the nursing home you chose for your mother or father may have no history of elopement events, you may not know the facts. Many nursing homes fail to report elopements to avoid the investigation, penalties and negative publicity. Nevertheless, if the facility has not implemented these or other proactive measures, you may want to meet with the administrator. However, if your loved one has already suffered because of a nursing home's neglect, an attorney may offer sound advice for your next steps.