The serious radio announcer speaks urgently: “Local police have issued a Silver Alert for a 74-year-old man who wandered away early this morning from his nursing home in….” You may think, “Wandered away? Aren’t the nursing home staff supposed to be taking care of him?”

Wandering and elopement are troublesome issues for nursing homes. Wandering is the term for a cognitively impaired nursing home resident moving around inside the facility unchecked. Elopement refers to such an individual leaving the nursing home property entirely and putting him- or herself in danger.

The Wandering Ones

The website cites a study done by the International Research Consortium on Wandering. The researchers discovered that more than 20 percent of the 15,000 cognitively impaired nursing home patients involved in the study had on at least one occasion wandered unsupervised through the nursing home.

According to Brad Klitsch of Direct Supply Healthcare Equipment in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the wandering ones generally have a purpose in mind, such as returning to work or going home to feed a pet. Bruce Yarwood of the American Health Care Association in Washington, D.C., says the potential danger to the patient is so great that “breeches to patient safety determined to be elopement can result in The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) finding of immediate jeopardy, along with significant civil monetary penalties or other CMS-imposed remedies.”

Who Is Likely to Be a Wanderer?

Yarwood says that no single patient profile is at high risk for elopement. He points out, though, that patients with cognitive impairment, especially those who are mobile, are more likely to wander. Of the 50 percent of nursing home patients who suffer from some form of dementia, 11 to 24 percent are wanderers. Many times, the wandering turns into elopement, so, Klitsch says, “essentially half of nursing home residents could be considered at risk for elopement.” Often, too, wandering and elopement cases are not reported.

What Conditions Allow Wandering?

Wandering or elopement are more likely to occur when one or more of the following factors are present:

  • too few staff members to adequately care for the residents;
  • staff that are inadequately trained how to supervise the residents; and
  • lack of alarms or other equipment to alert the staff of a wandering resident.

What Kind of Harm Can Befall Wandering or Eloping Residents?

Residents who wander throughout the nursing home property are at risk of injury; those who elope, even more so. Some of the dangers to these wanderers are

  • weight loss;
  • fatigue;
  • sleep problems;
  • getting lost;
  • injuries from falling;
  • heat stroke;
  • hypothermia; and
  • death.

If your loved one has been injured after wandering off from a Kentucky nursing home, contact the Louisville nursing home abuse lawyers at Gray and White Law. Call us at 502-210-8942 or toll free at 888-450-4456 set up a FREE, no-obligation consultation.


Matthew L. White
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Founder & Partner of Louisville Personal Injury Law Firm Gray & White Law