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4 Ways to Prevent Elopement in Nursing Homes

empty wheelchair in nursing home sitting room

Nursing homes and long-term care facilities face a variety of security risks that they need to manage and prevent. Elopement is one of the biggest risks to resident safety and can be life-threatening. Here’s what to know and a few ways to prevent elopement in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities:

What is Elopement in Nursing Homes?

In nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care facilities, elopement is a type of unsupervised wandering where the resident leaves the facility without notice. It is usually applied specifically to residents who are incapable of protecting themselves from harm and who exit the facility unnoticed.

Many residents may be prone to walking excessively or wandering to other areas of the facility, away from their room, or to a different floor. Because of this, wandering does not always lead to elopement. But, if wandering is unsupervised and the facility does not have the right security protocols and measures in place, it can lead to elopement.

Elopement can have serious consequences as it often leaves the resident who is wandering in dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations. In cases of cold or hot weather, an elder who has eloped from the facility can die from exposure if they are not found quickly. Because of this, it is essential for a facility to manage wandering to also prevent elopement.

How to Prevent Elopement in Nursing Homes

Elopement is one of the common security concerns for assisted living facilities. It is a serious security risk that a facility must manage in order to protect residents. Here are a few ways to prevent elopement in nursing homes and other facilities:

1. Create Safe Areas Within the Facility

Residents with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, sleep disorders, aggressive tendencies, and elevated levels of stress tend to be at risk of wandering and elopement. In fact, around 60% of people living with dementia will wander at least once and many will do so repeatedly.

There are many causes of wandering in senior living communities and many reasons why a resident may feel the need to wander. One of them is to relieve boredom or restlessness. Walking in a safe, secure, and supervised environment can be a proactive outlet for this energy and can help prevent some of the wandering that could lead to elopement.

An area with a circular floor plan or enclosed outdoor spaces can provide easy pathways for residents to follow while also allowing for supervision. Removing tripping hazards, securing or removing rugs, and using good lighting throughout the area can help reduce the risk of falls. Night lights can illuminate areas to help prevent falls and stumbles should wandering occur at night or in areas with low light.

2. Implement Access Control and Video Surveillance Systems

Although boredom and restlessness can lead to wandering and elopement, an urge to leave the facility in residents with Alzheimer’s or dementia is often associated with a memory that was triggered or a belief that they need to do something important outside of the facility. This could be visiting someone, feeding a pet, trying to return to a house they remember, remembering a time they needed to pick up something from the store that they forgot, and more.

An access control system that allows you to secure and manage all doors helps to increase security for your facility while also protecting residents and staff. A good access control system keeps unauthorized people out of your facility and keeps people inside if they are not supposed to be leaving. This is also why you need wander management and access control systems that work together and seamlessly integrate with your other security systems.

It should have an active alarm system that alerts the appropriate people when an unauthorized entry or exit is attempted. It should also integrate seamlessly with your video surveillance system. You should be able to monitor your facility in general, especially the doors and exits, and you should be able to quickly access CCTV footage for specific areas when an alarm or alert is triggered. Intelligent video analytics can help you monitor movement, heat signals, and more to further mitigate risk, protect your residents, and more.

3. Use a Comprehensive Wander Management System

Access control and video surveillance are some essential components of an effective wander management system, but they certainly don’t cover everything you need. There should also be comfortable wearables that can identify, track, and locate residents who are prone to wander.

Should these residents leave a designated area or attempt to access an unauthorized area, an alert should be sent to the appropriate staff. Not only does good wander management allow you to give more freedom and independence to residents within the facility, but it also helps you prevent elopement. The capacities for easy monitoring, efficient alerts, and rapid response are just a few of the ways nurse call systems improve patient safety and help prevent elopement.

4. Properly Staff Your Facility

Wandering and elopement occur most often when residents are unsupervised, which means understaffing can contribute to increasing the risk of them occurring. Even with automated systems and security in place, understaffed facilities, lack of records, lack of proper training, and more can lead to residents that are left unattended for long periods of time or to missing preventive measures that should have been implemented.

Having enough properly trained caregivers on staff means that residents receive the care and supervision they need. This also allows for regular resident risk assessments, multiple checks every day on high-risk residents, proper care, proper record-keeping, and more. This, in addition to other safety and security measures like installing an emergency call system, goes a long way in reducing unsupervised wandering and preventing elopement in nursing homes and other facilities.

These are a few ways to create a safer environment for residents and to prevent elopement in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and long-term care facilities. Every facility will have a unique set of needs, so the right mix of safety and security products will vary depending on your specific needs. Contact NEPPS for a free site assessment to get started towards the right security solution for your facility!