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Easily preventable nursing home elopement can end tragically

If you have recently placed your loved one in a Pennsylvania nursing home facility, chances are you have concerns about his or her safety. In fact, it may have been a terrifying incident that brought about this decision when your loved one became disoriented or wandered away from home. You knew you did not have the skill or resources to provide the security your loved one needed, and you were counting on the facility to offer protections you could not.

Nevertheless, you have likely read or heard tragic stories of elderly dementia patients who "eloped" from their nursing care facilities. For some, the staff was able to quickly recover them, but others suffered from serious or fatal injuries, exposure to the elements, or hours or days without life-sustaining medications. You certainly would not want your loved one's fate to be in the hands of such a negligent nursing home staff.

Basic preventive measures

Undoubtedly, you did careful screening of several facilities, expecting to find one that protects residents like your loved one who tend to wander. Patients who suffer from dementia, including Alzheimer's, may become agitated and try to find their way home or simply become confused and unable to get back to where they should be. A skilled and attentive nursing home staff will have safeguards in place to prevent such dangerous escapes, including these or others:

  • An assessment of your loved one and frequent re-evaluations to identify whether he or she is a high-risk for elopement
  • Observation of your loved one to determine if there are times or events that make your loved one more likely to wander
  • Activities that stimulate your loved one's mind and prevent agitation that leads to wandering
  • Documentation of your loved one's whereabouts at short, regular intervals
  • Communication among staff members about residents at risk of elopement, perhaps with prominently posted photos

As you can see, many of these steps require the action and attention of the staff. Door and bed alarms are basic tools for preventing elopement, but only if the staff is trained and alert. However, when residents are prone to wandering, the staff may become immune to alarms that go off numerous times throughout the day.

Nothing can replace the compassionate and consistent attention of a nursing home staff to ensure the safety and well-being of your loved one. A staff that is negligent in its duty to provide protection for its residents may be liable for any injuries your loved one suffers, and you would be within your rights to seek legal advice.

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