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Preventable nursing home elopement leads to tragedy

One of the most frightening moments an adult child faces when a parent has dementia is when the parent goes missing. You may have stopped by your parent's house to find the doors open and the stove on, or someone contacted you after finding your parent wandering in a section of town where he or she should not have been. These moments are often the catalyst for a family seeking a nursing facility with appropriate care for patients with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.

Unfortunately, just because the nursing home claims to have a secure facility does not mean your loved one is safe from wandering. Wandering outside the walls of the nursing home, called elopement, is so common that experts say a nursing home staff should expect it, especially of new residents. Therefore, you may have many questions and concerns if your parent managed to elope from the facility where you placed him or her.

Nursing home staff is a critical element

About 60 percent of those with dementia elope, often after a stressful event or move to an unfamiliar location. The first few weeks after your loved one became a resident, the staff of the home should have been especially diligent to watch for signs of agitation that may indicate the potential for elopement. When an elderly and unwell resident wanders from the safety of a facility, there is great risk of falling, being struck by a vehicle, missing critical doses of medication or suffering from exposure to the elements.

A nursing home can take proactive steps to reduce the chances of elopement. Some of the most common actions include these:

  • Installing alarms on doors or using anklet or bracelet alarms on susceptible residents, and training staff to act quickly when an alarm sounds
  • Carefully assessing each new patient for risk factors of elopement and reassessing frequently or when factors change, such as new medication
  • Keeping patients mentally stimulated with appropriate activities
  • Establishing a routine of checking on patients at regular intervals
  • Making every staff member aware of those residents who are most prone to escaping the facility
  • Observing patients to learn their patterns

Some patients may clearly indicate that they want to leave, and others may quietly slip out the door. It is critical that your loved one's caregivers recognize and react when someone demonstrates a pattern of wandering, agitation, confusion or other signs. However, if the staff of the Massachusetts nursing home neglects to use the highest level of care, resulting in injury or worse for your loved one, you have the right to seek answers and guidance about pursuing justice.

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