Keeping residents safe is a continuous challenge for senior living administrators. This is especially true when it comes to elopement. To successfully minimize a facility’s elopement risk, a multi-faceted approach is necessary. This involves implementing technology measures, maintaining physical barriers that do not impede fire safety, developing a comprehensive action plan, and ensuring staff are well-trained to assess and manage such situations. Most importantly, senior living administrators and staff need a solid understanding of why residents attempt elopement.

Wandering or elopement?

Tolkien famously wrote, “Not all who wander are lost.” That is true in senior living facilities, too. Wandering is the act of roaming aimlessly. Elopement occurs when the resident leaves the facility unsupervised.

Below is a list of potential reasons a long-term care facility resident might wander around:

  • Unfamiliar environment
  • Changes in medication
  • Being overly medicated
  • Unmet physical needs
  • Unmet emotional or psychological needs
  • Confusion
  • Dementia
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Sickness
  • An attempt to go home or visit a loved one
  • Sleep disorders

For residents that have dementia or are otherwise cognitively challenged, both wandering and elopement can be dangerous if they are unaware of potential harm. That’s why residents need to be routinely assessed for elopement risk factors, such as restlessness and declarations that they want to go home. Once identified, staff should be made aware of their potential for flight and the assessment included in the resident’s care plan.

Make a plan

In addition to creating individual care plans for residents that take into account their elopement risk, the facility must have a comprehensive action plan to manage potential elopements. This includes procedures for maintaining a safe facility and identifying and responding to missing resident situations.

To help administrators create a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan, SeniorLivingU offers the Emergency Preparedness manual.

Maintain a safe and secure facility

The best way to keep residents from leaving unsupervised is to limit access. The most common deterrents to elopement are secure doors and windows. Often, keypads and window restrictors are used so that access is not prevented during a fire or other emergency. Other physical measures include perimeter fences and elevator controls. It is important that these systems are regularly checked for issues and repairs made promptly to ensure resident safety and minimize elopement risk.

Technology to minimize elopement risk

Senior living facilities often implement technology to help keep residents safe and mitigate elopement risk. This may include early detection tracking systems (such as wander management bracelets), motion sensors and door/window alarms, and real-time location systems (such as RFID tags). Some systems can send mobile notifications to alert staff of potential elopements. Wander management solutions providers, like TRL Systems, are now integrating AI for predictive analytics that use “historical data to forecast potential wandering incidents based on the time of day (sundowning) or following events.”

A well-trained staff

Everyone on staff, from caregivers to administration, should be well-trained when it comes to elopement risk. Topics should include:

  • Understanding why residents wander
  • Identifying potential elopement risks
  • Knowing what to do when a resident is missing
  • Communicating effectively with family, coworkers, residents, and agencies

Elopement risk should be covered during onboarding and regular in-service refreshers to be effective at keeping residents safe and reducing liability.

Professional training from the experts at SeniorLivingU

SeniorLivingU provides senior living educational products that keep all levels of staff up to date on a wide range of subjects. Developed by experts in senior care, our solutions are available in a variety of product types to meet your needs. These include our popular Anytime Learning Portal, manuals, and DVDs.

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