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What does it mean when someone “elopes” from a nursing home?

On Behalf of | Apr 16, 2024 | Abuse/Neglect

If you have a loved one in a nursing home or other care facility, you know how important it is for the staff to protect them from injury and other harm. The facility also needs to have safeguards in place to protect them from something called “elopement.” 

Just what is elopement, and why can it be so dangerous? According to the National Institute for Elopement Prevention and Resolution (NIEPR), elopement is when an impaired person “leaves a caregiving facility or environment unsupervised, unnoticed, and/or prior to their scheduled discharge.” It’s most common when patients have dementia. However, medications and some medical conditions can also cause confusion that can lead to elopement.

How elopement is different than wandering

You may have heard the term “wandering” and wonder if that’s the same as elopement. They’re two different things – although both can certainly result in injury or death. When a patient wanders, they remain on the property and are simply lost. They can still get into trouble – like falling, consuming toxic substances and more. Repeated wandering can eventually lead to elopement.

Elopement is more “purposeful” than wandering. Sometimes a patient will try to go home or to some other place they know (either from the past or present). Of course, since it involves leaving the grounds of a facility, they’re at greater risk of serious harm. They may be hit by a car, wander in a body of water (even a shallow one) and drown or be violently attacked or killed. Here in Ohio, a patient who elopes in the winter – especially at night – can freeze to death.

Nursing homes need to take steps to prevent it – and to locate a patient who has eloped

It’s important to make sure that your loved one’s nursing home or other care facility (or any that you’re considering), has taken preventative measures (like having alarms on exterior doors) to prevent elopement. They also need to have an emergency plan in place so that everyone knows what to do if a patient can’t be located.

If a loved one in a nursing home was injured after eloping (or wandering), you have a right to ask for a thorough investigation into how it happened. It’s also a good idea to explore your legal options as soon as possible.


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