Elopement and wandering tips for caregivers
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.