Wandering refers to a cognitively-impaired resident who ambulates unsupervised within the nursing home without any purpose and without any regard for his personal safety. The concern is that such a resident could wander into a hazardous situation and injure himself—in a stairwell for example, or a kitchen, or a supply room.
Elopement occurs when a cognitively-impaired resident actually leaves the nursing home (exits the building) unnoticed by the staff and without supervision. Again, the obvious concern is injury or danger to the resident—wandering into traffic for example, or getting lost.
Alzheimer residents in particular are prone to wandering and are at greater risk for elopement. The staff has a duty to take precautions to help prevent wandering and elopement to ensure the resident’s safety. Staff supervision is essential. Alzheimer units should be locked at all times and should require a code to unlock the door before leaving or entering the unit.
Wandering and elopement occur when:
- there is not enough staff on duty to supervise the residents
- the staff is not properly trained in resident supervision
- the nursing home failed to install door alarms or other safety devices to alert the staff when a resident is leaving the unit
- the staff failed to respond, or timely respond, to a door alarm