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The problem of elopement—and why the nursing home may be liable

On Behalf of | May 29, 2020 | Nursing Home Abuse

Memory care units are a reality for many families with loved ones suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. And “many” is soon to become a much larger number. The Center for Disease Control expects the number of adults affected by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia to triple in the next 40 years, bringing the number of adults affected to around 14 million by 2060.

When you entrust your loved one into a long-term care facility, you establish an understanding with that facility regarding the care your loved one will receive, and the safety they will provide. If a family member elopes from the facility—meaning they escape the safety of the space—the facility breaks that trust.

Why do people with dementia and Alzheimer’s elope?

Your first instinct might be to assume that your loved one escaped aka eloped because they are unhappy in the memory care unit. However, research indicates it’s more likely the escapee was seeking to fill an unmet need. Perhaps they were looking for human contact, food, water, a different environment or relief from pain.

Often, the best way a medical care unit can handle those prone to wandering and exit-seeking is with a person-centered approach. The more the caregiver knows about the individual’s habits and needs, the better care they can provide. Of course, in an understaffed nursing home, this can be difficult to manage.

What safety precautions can long-term care facilities put in place to protect your loved one?

Memory care units can enact safety measures to protect residents and reduce opportunities for elopement.

Safety measures could include:

  • Ridding rooms of overstimulation, such as excess noise and clutter
  • Preventing boredom by offering regular activities to keep residents engaged socially
  • Providing safe paths for walking within the facility
  • Indicating essential areas of the facility with clear signs, such as the bathroom and dining area
  • Disguising exits by frosting the doors or covering the handles to deter the curious
  • Using technology to monitor residents and exit points
  • Creating a lost person plan

But what if they fail to do so? What if the facility is negligent?

Is the facility liable?

While it depends on the circumstances, you may be able to hold the facility accountable if your loved one is injured during elopement if you can prove that the care facility neglected its duty. For example, if the facility was understaffed or the door was left unlocked, you may have a personal injury case.