Wandering and Elopement in Long-Term Care

What is the definition of elopement and wandering?

It is estimated that up to 31% of nursing home residents and between 25% and 70% of community-dwelling older adults with dementia wander at least once.A 2006 study reported that one in five people with dementia wander.Estimates on the prevalence of wandering vary widely between studies due to a lack of a consistent definition of wandering and diverse clinical sampling.

Cognitively impaired individuals who wander are at high risk of injury.Elopement, in which the person wanders away from home or from a skilled nursing facility, is the most dangerous type of wandering and has resulted in death. In this article, the authors discuss the case of an elderly wheelchair-bound adult with Alzheimer’s dementia who was found outside of the nursing home where he resided. This case supports the need for facilities to regularly assess residents’ propensity to wander, even in individuals who may not appear capable of wandering or elopement, and taking proactive measures to protect these individuals. The authors also review the literature and discuss triggers for wandering and elopement, assessment tools that can be used to determine risk, and individualized and facility-wide measures that nursing homes can implement to reduce the incidence and risk of wandering and elopement.

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