Resident Wandering Elopement

Resident Wandering & Elopement

By Mary Cavanaugh, General Counsel, The Kemper Company

It is not unusual for individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia to “wander,” a word that is often used to describe older adults with dementia who appear to be moving aimlessly, but often are doing so purposefully. Wandering can be beneficial for residents, encouraging cognitive and social stimulation and helping to maintain mobility and even a sense of purpose.  However, it’s important to take steps to prevent wandering from turning into elopement from a facility.

Elopement is commonly defined as the unauthorized or intentional exit of a resident, who lacks the necessary cognitive skills to maintain individual safety, from facility property without adequate supervision, observation, or staff knowledge or awareness. We want to take a moment in this article to share with you some of the things we do at Kemper House to reduce the risk of resident elopement and how you, and everyone who visits us can help.

Kemper House was designed to enable purposeful wandering, with hallways that encourage safe meandering as well as activity stations, artwork, and other items to engage residents along the way.  Several years ago, we added wall murals to help to draw residents’ focus away from exit doors on the neighborhoods.

As you may already know, residents are assessed upon admission and periodically throughout their stay to determine their risk for elopement. Kemper House uses an alert system for residents who are identified as at-risk for elopement, and there is an alarm and door security system in place that includes all exit doors. Staff is trained on various techniques to help redirect residents and drills are done periodically. These are just among some of the measures we take.

What can you and all visitors do to help?

  • Always be conscious when entering or exiting the facility or a neighborhood. Some residents like to linger near the doors (often just to see who is visiting), so it is good to open and close the door slowly. This helps to avoid accidentally bumping a resident when opening the door, and also to avoid a resident wandering out.
  • Always make sure that the door is closed and secured when entering or leaving the neighborhood. It takes a moment for the door to fully click closed as it engages with the locking system, so we ask that visitors wait for and be aware of the door fully closing.
  • Always make sure that a resident is not following behind you as you exit a neighborhood or the facility. Oftentimes we want to be courteous and hold the door open for someone behind us trying to exit, but at times, residents who are very mobile and/or younger-looking, as well as our day friends or respite residents could be mistaken for visitors. A better form of “courtesy” in an environment like Kemper House is to allow the other person to approach the exit first. You may get a sense that the person hesitates or is unable to input the code to exit. If that occurs, rather than going through the door, seek out the assistance of a staff member.

As always, when you take a resident out for a special outing or appointment, make sure the front desk and the nurse is aware, both when you are leaving and when the resident returns.  All of these measures will help promote the well-being and safety of our residents.

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