When the Elderly “Escape”: Elopement
Many people are confused by the term “elopement” in nursing homes. Its definition in this sense has nothing to do with running away to get married, but rather refers to a situation in which a resident of a personal care home escapes from the premises.
It may sound silly, but the consequences of such an event can be very bad, including severe injury or even death to the escapee. Residents who elope may end up hit in a traffic accident, or wander into a body of water, or slip and fall miles away from help.
The need to wander and escape often afflict people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. As a person’s mental facilities start to erode, he no longer has the ability to make decisions for himself or clear awareness of his surroundings. This is exactly why many of these patients were admitted into personal care homes to begin with.
The Problems Facing People with Dementia
A person with dementia has a long list of impairments. Dementia is a degenerative disease, so as the symptoms progress, it becomes increasingly difficult for someone to function on a daily basis. Ordinary activities such as cooking or cleaning turn into insurmountable hurdles.
Dementia patients face many cognitive problems as their disease worsen: memory loss, mental decline, confusion, disorientation, an inability to speak or recognize language, delusions, and an inability to recognize common objects. In the later stages, it becomes impossible for people with dementia to care for themselves.
In addition to the above, patients will also face behavioral issues, including increased irritability, personality changes, and a lack of restraint. You might also notice mood swings, depression, and nervousness. In the most extreme cases, a person may have unsteady muscle control, jumbled speech, and an inability to stand.
The Responsibilities of a Personal Care Home
It is extremely difficult to provide the necessary care for patients in advanced stages of dementia. This is because they can pose a danger to themselves and may require twenty-hour monitoring. It’s inexcusable that a facility entrusted (and paid) with caring for a dementia patient would allow that patient to escape. Yet it happens more often than you think.
According to statistics from a 2012 study on nursing home elopement, up to 31% of nursing home residents have wandered at least once. At least 25% and as many as 70% of community-dwelling senior citizens with dementia have wandered. The study also cited an earlier report that showed at least one in five people with dementia wander. (The wide discrepancy in the results is because the researchers used different definitions of wandering and elopement in their studies.)
When you consider the known risk of wandering among patients with dementia, there can be no excuse for homes that allow their patients to wander off the premises. This is a documented problem that needs to be guarded against at all times. It is a gross failure of duty when a personal care home has not implemented strict protocols that make such an event impossible.
What Can You Do If a Loved One Was Hurt While Wandering?
If you suspect that your loved one has been allowed to wander while a patient at a home, it’s important to seek out help immediately. You should begin documenting any signs of harm or negligence. This could include photos of physical injuries, medical records, written correspondence from caregivers, or even your own correspondence if you mention your suspicions.
Any evidence you gather could prove crucial to your case. That is because if your relative is suffering from dementia, his or her testimony could be unreliable. Any corroborating information that indicates a failure on the part of the home or employees to provide proper care could prove essential if your case goes to trial. You should also immediately seek the help of an experienced elder care lawyer who can advocate on your relative’s behalf.
Remember, it is not the victim’s fault. A patient with dementia is not responsible for his or her actions. It is the responsibility of professional caregivers to look after patients and prevent them from doing any harm to themselves or others.
At Kreisher Marshall & Associates, LLC, we work exclusively in elder law. Give us a call at (570) 784-5211 if you have any questions about issues that affect your elderly loved ones.