Elopement and wandering tips for caregivers

June 17, 2021 | SECURA Risk Management

Caregivers must be vigilant about the issues of wandering and elopement. It's estimated that up to 31% of nursing home residents and between 25% and 70% of community-dwelling older adults with dementia wander at least once. For many of us, when we think of the word elopement, we likely think of a wedding on a warm sandy beach. However, for those in the caregiving industry, elopement can be extremely dangerous. 

Potential hazards can include: 

  • Falling down stairs or balconies, tripping, and other building hazards
  • Wandering into a restricted area (such as a kitchen, chemical storage room, fireplace, etc.) or trespassing in some way
  • Hypothermia, sunburn, and other weather-related exposures
  • Parking lots, roads, and other vehicle exposures
  • Poor visibility at night
  • Being taken advantage of, mugged, or violated by a third party
  • Placing themselves in harm's way or becoming frightened, fatigued, or confused
  • Feeling threatened, chased, or not wishing to be found

Fortunately, elopement and wandering can be prevented with proper supervision and the right procedures in place. Be sure to: 

  • Monitor staff-to-resident/client ratio and comply with best practices and state regulations.
  • Schedule regular head counts.
  • Monitor all entrances and exits with cameras or alarms.
  • Use video cameras or motion sensors in areas surrounding the program area if possible.
  • Attach bracelets or other electronic tagging to the person in extreme cases.
  • Train staff to recognize signs and elopement tendencies. If you deal with residents/clients who have cognitive impairments, make a notation in their files about wandering or elopement tendencies. Once a person is recognized as a potential wanderer, he or she must have an individualized plan. 
  • Make sure family members and guardians are awaare of elopment issues and can be reached at all times.
  • Organize activities that will keep residents/clients engaged and willing to remain in the designated area.
  • Communicate constantly. This is key to spotting elopement tendendices as they surface. 
  • Notify neighbors of this risk, so they know how to respond should they witness something. 
  • Develop a sound elopement policy to allow for instant notification of local authorities and family/guardians.