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New Mexico Nursing Home Wandering/Elopement Attorneys

Nursing Home Wandering and Elopement

Wandering and elopement are serious problems in nursing homes that create a high risk of injury for residents with cognitive impairment. Nursing homes have a responsibility to provide adequate supervision to prevent wandering and elopement among residents. When they fail to do so, they may be liable for the resulting injuries.

If your elderly loved one has been hurt as a result of unchecked wandering or elopement in a nursing home, you may have a claim for compensation against the facility. Contact an Albuquerque attorney at Sorey, Gilliland & Hull, LLP at (903) 212-2822 as soon as possible to find out about your options under the law.

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What Are Nursing Home Wandering and Elopement?

Wandering occurs when a cognitively impaired nursing home resident is allowed to move around inside the facility without proper appreciation of personal safety needs. An unsupervised resident with dementia or Alzheimer’s may enter into harm’s way through wandering. Elopement occurs when residents who are mentally incapable of protecting themselves from harm are allowed to leave the facility, unnoticed and unsupervised, creating a risk of injury or death.

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What Are the Risk Factors for Wandering in Nursing Home Residents with Dementia?

Even residents who are confined to a wheelchair can wander. According to an article published in the Annals of Long-Term Care, older, male residents with poor sleep patterns, agitation, and aggression who are socially active and outgoing are more likely to do so. The risk of wandering may also be higher in residents with dementia who have unmet physical or psychosocial needs. Environmental risk factors for wandering in nursing home residents with dementia include:

  • Recent medication change
  • Unfamiliar environment
  • Changes in routine or schedule
  • Being left alone
  • Spatial disorientation to familiar cues
  • Demonstrated desire to “go home” or engage in a past practices, such as visiting a relative

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What Should Nursing Homes Do to Prevent Wandering and Elopement?


Under federal regulations, nursing homes that participate in Medicare or Medicaid are required to conduct a comprehensive, accurate assessment of each resident’s needs no later than 14 days after admission to the facility and at least every three months thereafter. If there is a significant change in the physical or mental condition of the resident, reassessment is required immediately. Early assessment is critical, as most elopement occurs within 48 hours of admission.

Staff Training and Information

Nursing homes must provide staff members involved in resident care with proper training and support that enables them to appropriately intervene and minimize the risk of wandering. New staff members, staff not directly involved in resident care, and all visitors to the facility should be informed of the nursing home’s policies and procedures to prevent wandering. Uninformed staff or visitors could inadvertently compromise safety measures.

Balancing Resident Safety with Personal Freedom

Under federal regulations, nursing homes are required to furnish services to attain or maintain the resident’s highest practicable levels of physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being. This requirement must be balanced with resident safety in nursing home policies and procedures designed to prevent wandering. Nursing homes must adopt interventions, both individualized and facility-wide, that protect residents from wandering risks, without severely compromising their autonomy.

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What Is the Risk of Injury with Nursing Home Elopement?

The danger is much higher for cognitively impaired nursing home residents who wander outside of the facility (elopement). Nursing homes must have a formal search procedure in place that clearly defines the responsibilities of all staff. They should keep photographs and identifying information on file for all residents, so the data is readily available for search parties and the police. One study found that if a resident who eloped is not found within the first 24 hours, the fatality rate is 25 percent. The likelihood of survival decreases as the length of time the resident is missing increases. After 72 hours or more, only 60 percent of residents are found alive, and after 96 hours or more, it drops to 46 percent.

Most deaths of people with dementia after elopement are caused by hyperthermia (high body temperature), dehydration, and drowning. The above-referenced study found that 89% of missing people with dementia were found within a mile of their residence, at an average distance of half a mile. Only one percent responded to shouts or calls, and fewer than one percent called out to rescuers.

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Who Is Liable for Wandering and Elopement?

Nursing homes may be negligent if they fail to have the right security measures in place to prevent wandering and elopement, or if they fail to enforce them. It may be negligence if an alarm goes off signaling a wandering patient and nursing home staff fail to act quickly. Nursing homes are legally required to provide each resident with the appropriate level of supervision for his or her condition and circumstances. There should be a proper plan in place that is specific and adaptable, based on a regular and thorough assessment of the needs of the individual. When nursing homes fail to implement the correct measures to prevent wandering and elopement, they may be held liable for resulting injuries.

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Contact Us Today

Many elderly people are placed in nursing homes precisely because they have cognitive impairment and need the level of care and supervision these facilities are required to provide. Wandering and elopement create a serious risk of injury or death for nursing home residents with dementia. If your loved one has been injured because a nursing home failed to prevent wandering or elopement, call Sorey, Gilliland & Hull, LLP right away. We are dedicated legal advocates for New Mexico residents injured through nursing home negligence.

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