Wandering and elopement are common yet problematic behaviors among seniors with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. In fact, more than 34,000 patients with Alzheimer's wander out of their homes annually; in institutionalized settings, it is estimated that as many as 24 percent of patients wander. Unfortunately, as the population continues to age, incidences of wandering and elopement are also increasing. Let's take a closer look at this issue, along with coping and prevention methods.
If your loved one suffers from dementia, wandering may be a threat.
What is Elopement?
Elopement simply describes an incident in which a person with cognitive loss wanders out of a safe area, such as a home or nursing facility. In some cases, elopement results from an intentional attempt to leave. In others, it's an unintentional act caused by disorientation and memory loss.
Whatever the cause, elopement can lead to significant safety concerns -- particularly in cases of extreme weather, prolonged exposure, injury, and the risk of becoming lost.
All government-licensed nursing facilities are required to report nursing elopements, which will result in investigation along with the chance of fines -- regardless of whether or not an injury occurred. In addition to implementing preventative measures for the safety of their residents, nursing homes must also consider repercussions for their own business.
Risk Factors for Elopement
Patients with a history of wandering or attempted elopement have significantly increased chances of repeating these behaviors. Other indications that elopement might occur include signs of agitation and restlessness, attempts to open doors, and expression of the desire to leave -- whether to go home, to work, or to an alternate location.
Patients who are able to move freely and could be mistaken for visitors are at particular risk, although any individual with a dementia diagnosis is vulnerable to wandering behavior.
Elopement Risk Prevention
Raising awareness among home caregivers and nursing home staff about wandering and elopement is essential. This isn't just limited to immediate caregivers, but also includes educating everyone from housekeeping to front desk to dining room staff about risk factors and behaviors. Reporting these incidents is the first step in assessing and understanding an individual's risk of elopement.
Scheduled diversion activities also offer valid interventions. Regular exercise and involvement in purposeful daily activities are effective preventative measures. Additionally, environmental interventions, including alarm systems, clearly identified housing and bathrooms, and location checks add another level of security.
MedicAlert® + Alzheimer's Association Safe Return program offers invaluable services for patients who are prone to wandering. This 24-hour nationwide emergency response service for individuals with any form of dementia activates a community support network mobilizing local law enforcement, Alzheimer's Association chapters and other emergency responders, as necessary. Additionally, many states now have "Silver Alerts" public notifications systems which broadcast information about missing seniors in order to aid in their safe return.
While wandering and elopement are very real threats for seniors, raising awareness, understanding risk factors, and taking appropriate preventative measures can lead to best outcomes. For more information on wandering and elopement or on an alternate subject mmlearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmlearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs.