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Wandering and Elopement: A Brief Guide

In the United States, there are about 35,000 people who wander from their homes each year. It is estimated that elopement occurs in about 13-24% of seniors and happens with about 60% of Alzheimer’s patients. This makes it crucial to understand elopement and why it may happen. While similar, wandering is considered moving around inside the facility or home without awareness of personal safety, potentially putting themselves in harm’s way. On the other hand, elopement is leaving the facility or home unnoticed and unsupervised.

Why does it happen?

Typically this can start out as wandering and develop into an elopement. This is a common symptom that develops due to dementia. Elopement can be leaving the facility or home intentionally or unintentionally due to confusion or memory loss. Intentionally leaving may be due to their feeling of needing to do something, or they have somewhere they need to be due to confusion. Wandering and elopement may be triggered by changes in medication, unwelcome changes, or feelings of being overwhelmed. There are many safety risks with elopement including exposure to extreme weather, fall risks, car accident risks, injury, and the risk of becoming lost.

Risk Factors:

It is not easy to predict who may at risk for elopement and wandering. However, there are some things to keep in mind when trying to evaluate the risk of elopement. If seniors have a history of wandering or elopement it is crucial to keep them in mind for future attempts at elopement. Additionally, statements such as ” I need to go to work” or “I want to go home” can be identifiers to watch out for. Those who have been diagnosed with dementia are at an increased risk for developing this habit and are crucial to monitor closely to keep them safe. Other risks to watch out for include the ability to move freely and easily, restlessness and agitation, and frequent attempts to leave.

Preventative Measures:

Understanding elopement and the risks to be aware of is the first step in preventing elopement. It is vital to know what patients are at risk of developing this habit and knowing what to watch out for to help keep them safe. There are some preventative measures that can be used to decrease the chances of elopement or wandering. If they have a history of wandering or eloping try to understand their habits, common time frames, and triggers that may cause them to elope. Consider engaging them with interesting, purposeful or physical activities to keep them happy and engaged. If you are worried about the development of this habit communicate your concerns to others to determine the next steps.

Elopement and wandering are very common in seniors with dementia. It is crucial to understand this condition and the safety risks associated with it to ensure that the senior is safe and happy. It is vital to keep track of the progression of this condition to be sure they are receiving all the help and security they need.

For more information on elopement, check out these resources:

Elopement in Dementia Risks and Prevention

Elopement in Nursing Homes

A Caregiver’s Guide to Wandering and Elopement

Healthy Hive

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