Risk Factors for Wandering Behavior and Elopement

elopement risk factors

Wandering and elopement are two serious behaviors in which nursing home residents can engage that can be very dangerous to their safety. There are many risk factors for such behavior. In addition to medication complications, other risk factors can include neurological disorders, psychological or adjustment issues, and environmental factors.

Neurological Disorders

Degenerative neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, can increase the risk of wandering behavior since the affected individual often “forgets” where he or she is and where he or she is going. These conditions can cause a person to wander aimlessly, engage in random and haphazard travel, or travel in a repetitive pattern around a given path. Those with more severe diseases often exhibit more pronounced and potentially more dangerous behavior, as these individuals often lack a sense of danger and are unable to perceive the potential for harm in a given situation.

Problems sleeping through the night can also lead to cognitive impairments and can cause an uptick in daytime ambulation (walking and moving) and wandering. Certain medications can disrupt sleep patterns and can be a contributing factor. Other medications, usually prescribed for treating or managing neurological conditions, can also increase the risk of wandering behavior as well.

Psychological Issues

Depression and agitation are two of the most common psychological causes for elopement behavior. Upon arrival at the nursing home, a new resident may be consumed by anger at the change in circumstances or maybe scared of his or her new living arrangement. These feelings can encourage a resident to attempt elopement from the facility, which can be dangerous and detrimental to his or her safety. The resident usually does not have a plan for escape, or any idea what he or she will do after escaping. Elopers are merely driven by their desire to leave.

Other psychological factors, such as lack of self-control, an uncontrollable sense of boredom, stress or anxiety can also cause a resident to elope or wander to alleviate these feelings.

Environmental Factors

There are many environmental factors that can trigger wandering and elopement in those nursing home residents who are at risk for engaging in such behavior. For instance, “cues to leave,” such as seeing a jacket and keys by the door, may trigger the impulse in a cognitively impaired individual to leave, just like seeing a bus station can trigger the impulse to ride the bus to get home. Similarly, sometimes wanderers are drawn to investigate something, and then become distracted, eventually wandering off. Unfamiliar places can cause anxiety, which can instigate wandering behavior as the resident tries to “find his or her way” to someplace more familiar.

If you are worried that your loved one is at risk of wandering unsafely or eloping from a nursing home and you are concerned that the nursing home is not doing enough to protect your loved one from harm, please contact the Rooth Law Firm today by phone at (800) 350-0646 or online.

Photo Credit: Graham Crumb via Compfight cc

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