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Out in the Cold: Wandering Nursing Home Residents at Risk

Posted On January 27, 2020

Nursing home residents with dementia and Alzheimer’s face a greater risk of injury and death when wandering off the premises in cold weather.

The Dangers of Elopement

Elopement is a dangerous form of wandering for nursing home residents who have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. During winter weather, residents who wander away from the nursing home facility face serious injury risks, even death, from freezing temperatures. With cognitive dysfunction, dementia patients are not able to understand their environmental risks or the dangers of frostbite, animal attacks, falls, and getting lost.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s creates mental confusion that makes it extremely difficult for residents to recognize their surroundings and return safely to the nursing home. In some cases of elopement, symptoms of dementia make residents so afraid of getting injured or killed, they lash out at anyone who approaches them, begin screaming uncontrollably, and try to flee from help.

Nursing home wandering and elopement are dangerous behaviors. In most cases, they are caused by inadequate staff supervision and security.

  • Wandering – refers to a resident’s aimless movement throughout the facility interior, putting his/her own safety and the safety of other residents at risk
  • Elopement – refers to a resident’s ability to leave the facility unnoticed by other residents and facility staff members and caregivers

Every year, numerous reports of injuries and fatalities from nursing home elopement are seen by nursing home abuse lawyers across the country. Under federal and state regulations, nursing home facilities are required to provide a safe, healthy environment for residents with an appropriate level of supervision to prevent resident harm.

Nursing home facilities must put safety standards in place to identify dementia and Alzheimer’s residents who are at greater risk of wandering and elopement. If a resident has a tendency to wander or has made prior attempts to leave the facility alone, a resident care plan that implements increased supervision is essential. This includes operating with adequate nursing home staff, locking exit doors at regular hours, alarming all exits, and educating staff on wandering and elopement behaviors and risks.

Nursing home staff members and caregivers must know how to assess a resident’s risk of wandering and elopement and be able to identify the warning signs, especially in residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s who face higher risks. Keeping a close eye on those residents and making sure exits and windows are secured can prevent injuries and death to residents who tend to wander. 

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